Douglas Officials Considering Offering Possible Deferment Of Special Assessment Water District Fees For Affected City Residents
Under the rubric of being “fair” and in an attempt to ameliorate the financial burden on impacted residents, Douglas city officials say they are proposing—as was discussed at Monday’s city council meeting—to amend the city ordinance to add “non-hardship” situations to the existing language for the deferment of assessment fees for the special assessment water districts: Freemont-Ellis, Whittier-First, and McVea.
Having discussed it since spring of this year, the council is making strides about how to go about paying for the proposed water main construction which will provide a way to fix residential non-conforming connections, illegal “spaghetti lines” or side yard water connections not linked to the water mains.
Improvements also entail replacing service lines that contain lead components as defined by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality; the service line refers to the connection from the water main into their house or building.
Contributions from both private residents and public funds are expected to pay for the estimated $545,000 water main project in the three districts, with property owners within districts paying more than half.
If ultimately approved by council, the latest proposed option gives affected residents an opportunity to make a one-time choice between making annual installments payments or defer the payments of the assessment fees of the water main construction.
By way of mortgage security on real property, the special assessment fee would be deferred until the death of the beneficiary or the sale or transfer of the property.
For property that is vacant at the time of deferment, the deferred assessment would be payable upon construction requiring connection to the system.
“We (the city and the Kalamazoo Lake Sewer and Water Authority) don’t know how these decisions (to install illegal connections) were made and who made them, but they are there and we have to address them,” said LeFevere.
Under the ordinance provisions, the city requires “that each and every house shall have a single service connection” and “that each and every separate building used for business purposes shall have a separate connection.”
“The preferred methodology for the allocation of construction costs (under the city’s code) will be based on a front foot basis for the length of water main that runs in front of each property,” states a September 14, 2018 memo from Douglas City Manager Bill LeFevere to Douglas city council.
“Individual property owners will be responsible for the cost of the water main that runs in front of their property and the ‘water system’ will be responsible for the footage that runs through the intersections or along public rights-of-way.”
The option for deferment of payments for the special assessment is one that the Douglas City Council is seriously considering to move forward with only after having previously looked at other options.
Those options include, among others, providing residents with a subsidy to reduce the cost and—an alternative that was immediately dismissed—to have the system, consisting of all water customers as a collective, pay for the entire project cost.
A special assessment is a levy on real property within a specified district; it resembles a tax, but it’s not a tax, according to the Michigan Municipal League, the nonprofit specializing and advocating on municipal concerns.
The Home Rule City Act (MCL 117.4d) provides the power for cities to asses and reassess the costs—or a portion of the costs— of a public improvement to a special district.
With regards to the lead service line, while the Lead and Copper Rules issued by the DEQ on June 14, 2018 demands that the public system—not private property owners—pay for lead service lines, LeFevere said that the DEQ ruling is not a law and it flies in the face of city charter provisions and the state law, namely the Home Rule City Act.
LeFevere is not alone in his beliefs.
Other local governmental entities throughout the state feel that the DEQ’s Lead and Copper Rules have exceeded the scope of the DEQ’s authority under state law and are arbitrary.
To that end—just as Douglas council did on Monday—local municipalities are passing resolutions to back the efforts of Detroit-based water authority entities in their filing of a “request for declaratory ruling” before the DEQ.