By Jim Newell
The Village of Lake Orion council sent a formal letter of request to Orion Township officials asking for a share of the recent voter-approved township parks and recreation millage funds. They also attended the township’s meeting last week to make the request in person.
Township board members, however, did not feel that handing over millage funds to the village would be an appropriate use for those funds, especially since the township showed voters a plan earmarking those funds for township projects.
The two governments did agree that partnering on some upcoming projects, such as the Paint Creek bank stabilization, would be worth pursuing jointly.
Township officials also broached the idea of possibly using township Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to support the village, saying it might be a better way to collaborate.
Village Council President Ken Van Portfliet and Manager Joe Young attended the township meeting to make the request.
“We’re here this evening asking for some collaboration, working together to help address the needs of the villages parks,” Young said. “We have six of them: four of them are major parks, two of them are small parks.”
In the Aug. 7 primary election, voters approved a 5-year, 1-mill parks and recreation millage request from the township to fund parks operations and programs. The millage is expected to bring in more than $1.6 million in the first year.
“’We’re asking you to consider a couple of possibilities in sharing those millage funds,” Young said. “The village has 10 acres in our six parks; and the township is over 500 (acres) with your many parks.”
The village requested that the township share $32,000 of the parks millage funds – about 2 percent of the millage, saying that village residents pay into the millage.
Township officials pointed out that the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority will capture about $29,000 from the park and recreation millage.
Township attorney Dan Kelly said there are two concerns: the township is being asked “to turn over millage money to an entity that is separate from the township, which has its own power under law and/or charter, to impose taxes and/or have their own millage in regard to their parks and rec.”
Kelly also pointed out that the township has now approved the millage language, which explicitly says millage funds would be used for the township parks and recreation department.
“My concern is, where is the law that says we’re allowed to do that? This is very similar to the police millage that we engaged a contractual agreement for a number of years. I didn’t like that contract and I don’t like this arrangement either because I haven’t been given any law that says we can actually do that,” Kelly said.
“Millage language is regulated by law: you must inform the voters what you’re going to use that money for, so at this point as I’ve indicated in my opinion, it would not be my recommendation to voluntarily make a contribution out of the parks millage,” Kelly said.
“We’ve spent a decent amount of time in my office trying to find a way to creatively assist in the bank stabilization project, so that’s a good example of where we’re willing to help out,” township Supervisor Chris Barnett said. “It hasn’t actually come before the board for a vote, but we’ve done quite a bit of legwork. If we can find a way to help, we will.”
But handing over a percentage of the parks millage to the village every year “is going to be difficult for us to do at the risk of potentially throwing out our millage if someone challenged that,” Barnett said. “That’s the difficult situation that we’re in.”
Township Clerk Penny Shults, who is on the CDBG committee and parks and recreation advisory committee, said she would like to “be engaged in this, so that we can look toward using the CDBG funding. If there’s a way that I can assist, I think that that’s the way to go. As a board member, I’m not inclined to take dollars out of the general fund,” Shults said.
Shults said the township uses its CDBG funding for NOTA and FISH, but there may be a way to share a portion of those funds with the village.
“We have to do something to help. I wholeheartedly agree with that,” Shults said.
Trustee Brian Birney was one of the leads behind the millage, explaining it to taxpayers before the election.
“We did put out a list of exactly what we were doing, and I think that was one of the selling points. At least a lot of the feedback that I got via Facebook and talking to people…that they could see dollar by dollar where everything was going.
“I’m all for collaboration…but it seems like it would be misleading for the people who voted for it if something was suddenly stuffed in, or if we misled them with the things that we had already planned to do,” Birney said.
“I’m not sure about the misleading portion because it’s just a request for the percentage,” Van Portfliet said. “Because the parks are the parks, and everybody uses them. The township uses the village’s parks and the village uses the township’s parks. And it’s a great opportunity for us all to work together.”
“My take on this is we want to work together. I think we have the best relationship between the village and township that we’ve had in my six years here. Just being very open. Anything that we could do that may put our millage in jeopardy is not something that I would ever recommend this board do. But, if there are creative ways…project by project or if we could allocate some of our monies, I think that’s a better approach,” Barnett said.
Leo Trayner is a township resident who spoke at the meeting said he doesn’t support the township sharing its millage funds with the village.
“We’ve been down this path before with the millages. The police millage comes to memory really quick. It seems like every time we have a millage pass in the township we have the village coming down and asking for some funding and I’m not really sure why that is,” Trayner said.
“The one thing that we can’t guarantee, nobody can guarantee, is how that money is actually going to be spent. They can come back and say, ‘You can’t tell us how to spend that money.’ We all know that. So, there’s no guarantee how that money is going to get used. We hope they do it in good faith, but there’s no guarantee. They could use it in the water/sewer fund for all we know.”
“I really think they need to collaborate with the DDA. Obviously, there’s some significant amount of funding going through the DDA and working with them, I think, would be a great idea,” Trayner said.
“Time and time again the township told people how the millage money would be spent. “I don’t not want to see one penny of that money going anywhere but in this township. We worked way too hard and really put the word out to get this millage passed.
“If it happens, I’m going to tell you what, we’re going to set a precedent and every time we have a millage, guess what’s going to happen: they’re going to come down looking for a handout,” Trayner said.