Council approved ,800 in fu...
HOLLY, Michigan – To assess or not to assess property owners living on the north side of Grange Hall Road for sidewalks is the latest question facing Holly Village Council members after Clerk/Treasurer Cathy Behrens reported that assessments can’t be levied if Community Block Development Grant monies are used to fund the project.
Last month, council members approved allocation of $27,800 from the village’s Major Road fund to go toward Phase I of the project that will place a sidewalk along the north side of Grange Hall Road from N. Holly westward to Presbyterian Village, a senior living community.
While the village currently has $15,000 in available CDBG funds for the project, village officials are also considering reprogramming an additional $15,000 in 2013 CDBG funds for the new sidewalk.
Total cost of the project is $95,000, and will be done in two phases, with Phase II extending the sidewalk further west to Patterson Elementary School.
Last month, Councilman George Kullis raised the possibility of assessing property owners along that stretch for the sidewalk. Historically, the village has split the cost 50/50 with residents owning conventional lots, and 60/40 with those who own corner lots. Kullis’ inquiry led to the question of whether assessments and the use of CDBG funds could both be used to fund the project.
On Tuesday, Behrens, who researched the matter, delivered the verdict.
“The bottom line is that if we special assess the people who live along Grange Hall Road – the north side of Grange Hall Road for the sidewalk, no CDBG funds can be allocated to that project,” she said.
Because the area along Grange Hall Road is designated as “low to moderate income” according to the 2010 Census, CDBG funds may be used, Behrens said, adding that the census includes seniors living on fixed incomes at Presbyterian Village. “Whether the people that live along Grange Hall Road are true low to moderate income isn’t the issue – it’s that the CDBG funds are governed by the census track,” she said. “If the village chooses a special assessment, no CDBG funds will be eligible for that project whatsoever – zero – which means that the project would have to be funded from the General Fund to pay for these sidewalks.”
Calling the Grange Hall Road corridor a “target area for improvement,” Behrens said it was the administration’s opinion that the sidewalk project would be a good use for the funds.
Councilwoman Jackie Campbell had several issues with the notion of sparing property owners an assessment.
“The sidewalk ordinance says all property owners must pay 50 percent of the cost of new sidewalks,” Campbell said. “The village pays the other 50 percent, and the split goes to 60/40 for corner lots, with the village picking up 60 percent,” she added. “If you’re going to change it, wouldn’t you have to amend the ordinance to move forward with the project?”
Councilman Chris Rankin acknowledged the percentage splits as outlined in the village’s sidewalk assessment ordinance, but said the ordinance also stipulates that enforcing an assessment is left up to the discretion of the council.
“If we’re just throwing down a sidewalk on a currently constructed lot or an empty lot, the residents are not automatically required to pay the 50 percent or whatever percentage we come up with – it is is left to us to decide, do we want to charge them, and how much of that we want to charge them,” he said “It is not automatic that they have to pay for it.”
“And that’s where the choice where we’re facing comes in – because we do have the option to assess, but then if we do take that option to assess and not use federal CDBG funds,” Councilman Ryan Bladzik said. “If we used CDBG funds, we also can’t assess on top of that, so everything is still on the level – it’s just the choice has been twisted a little bit.”
Campbell said she is concerned that sparing Grange Hall property owners any assessment could spur litigation from other residents who in the past, were forced to pay for sidewalk assessments.
“I remember there was a major ‘hoorah’ in town when the residents were forced to repair their sidewalks over on Maple and Elm streets to add a new sidewalk in,” she said. “How is this supposed to happen – does it make us liable?” she asked. “Because the citizens can come back and say, ‘Look, you forced us to pay, and now you’re going to let this one go through.’”
“I don’t know that the legal ramifications would be, but the council at that time decided to do one thing, and the council at this time can decide to do something different – whether it’s – as much as everyone would like us to be consistent every time we do something, obviously circumstances change, and we can make different decisions,” Rankin replied.
Village President Jason Hughes agreed with Rankin, reiterating that the ordinance gives council the option to assess or not to assess.
“So if in the past, if 20 years ago or 10 ago – or whatever, a council made one decision and a different council made a different decision in a different case, there are no legal ramifications for being capricious,” Bladzik said.
“Inconsistency isn’t against the law,” Rankin began.
“It’s just not the best policy,” Bladzik finished. “But neither is going by a book without giving any concern to extenuating circumstances.”
Still not satisfied by her fellow council members’ input, Campbell asked Michael Gildner, the village’s acting attorney, to weigh in.
“I don’t think you’re being capricious when different councils decide different things at different points in time – that’s what all of you are voted in to do,” Gildner said. “You’ve got your ordinances, you‘ve got your policies, you’ve got resolutions – they are subject to change within the discretion of the council,” he added. “I don’t think you’re being capricious – I don’t think you’re being discriminatory – when in the exercise of your discretion you do things differently than a previous body may have done.”
A public hearing on the matter will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21 in the Holly Village Chambers, 315 S. Broad St., Holly in which members of the public are invited to share their thoughts and opinions. A special meeting will follow the hearing. Council is expected to vote on the issue at that time.