Leland Township Voters to Decide Millage Renewal
Voters in one Leelanau County township will decide whether to renew an operating millage when they go to the polls on Tuesday. Even though it would replace last year’s millage at the same rate, not everyone is in favor of it.
Leland Township Supervisor Susan Och says, “the Extra Voted Millage is funds for operating of Leland Township. This is over half of our operating budget.”
The millage renewal is expected to bring in roughly $215,000 dollars for things like public dock maintenance, township streetlights, and park upkeep.
“The township really needs this. This is an integral part of our operations. Yes we’ve been setting aside some of it for infrastructure and for upkeep, about $50,000 a year,” Och says. “We normally do this every three years. Last year we started doing it one year at a time just because things were so up in the air with COVID. We want to make sure we don’t do a long millage not knowing exactly what they need.”
Och says this millage has been in place for fifteen years. “It’s a renewal. We’ve been levying this since 2006. So it’s nothing new.” She says this should be a simple millage renewal. “We’ve done this over and over again. It’s unusual to do it once a year instead of every three years. But good grief, a year ago we weren’t sure if we were going into a total recession, that’s why we did it one year at a time. This year we had to decide in February (to get it on the May ballot).”
But there’s a group that’s pressing the issue – they want voters to vote ‘No’. Leland resident and former Township Board member Tony Borden says he served for eight years on the township board – and doesn’t think the township needs this millage. He says the current leadership isn’t working in the township’s best interests. “They don’t need this money, this additional money. They have plenty of money, they just need to be more disciplined about what they’re spending it on.”
Borden is with the group “Taxpayers of Leland Township.” He says five years ago, when he was on the board, the library got its own millage. But the township kept the $95,000 per year it was setting aside for the library. That means, he says, the township has funds just sitting in the bank that haven’t been spent. “There hasn’t been one section of concrete pavement, sidewalk, that’s been replaced in five years. So this money has accumulated.”
The library does have its own operating millage, but the township owns the property. The agreement between the two, says Och, has the township responsible for the grounds, including the seawall on the Leland River. Built in 1975, it’s now in need of maintenance, Och says. “To restore it the way it is, is about $500,000.”
She adds the library’s separate millage “did not result in a windfall for Leland Township. It resulted in a responsibility that know we’re struggling to fund.” She says engineers have reported the seawall only has five years of life before repairs are critical. “We have a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be tackled. Much more than we have in reserve.”
Borden also argues there’s money coming in from the federal government as well. He says that will fill the township coffers. “There’s over $200,000 that has come into the township as a result of the federal legislation for COVID relief.” He adds, “It’s a windfall, but that money is going to be there. To say they need to extend this millage right now… that’s why we came out advocating people vote against it at this time. As a way to send a message to these township officers that we’re tired of some of the spending they’ve done, the practices they use, the obfuscation about the numbers.”
Och says counting on federal dollars is premature. “One of things we don’t know (yet) is how it can be spent…. And the $200,000 is an estimate. We just don’t know anything. We’re doing this (millage election) at this time because elections cost money. We’re piggybacking on the school election.” She says that is saving the taxpayers money.
Borden also says he and his fellow TOLT group members are disturbed by a February discussion by the township board to assess a 1% fee to property owners. He says because it’s a fee and not a tax, the township can pass it without voter approval. “The 1% fee would produce approximately $125-$130,000 of income per year.” He believes “it’s apparent that they fully intend to implement this 1% fee. So that is the thing that fully ignited this effort.”
But Och says it’s not been decided. “The 1% fee is something we have considered from time to time, almost every year at budget time. I’m not sure why it’s a ‘hair on fire’ issue right now. But it’s something we’ve often considered. We’ve never thought it was necessary before.”
As far as Tuesday’s millage renewal, Och says, “I totally expect this to pass but if it does not we will have to have another election at further expense to the taxpayers. Because we can’t operate without this money.”