Thursday, November 20, 2014

Special Meeting of the Bridgeport Township Board November 17th, 2014

This meeting was held to discuss and approve the special assessments for the police and fire departments.
Discussion starts with the township supervisor reading a letter that went out by constant contact email on Friday Nov 14th to explain some of the concerns that residents have been voicing.  This starts at 6:54 in the video.
Under Special Orders:
- Public Hearing for Special Assessment for Police Department starts at 11:57
- Public Hearing for Special Assessment for Fire Department starts at 1:01:10
Public Comment period starts at 1:21:21
Under New Business:
- Resolution R14-24 Amendment to 911 Saginaw County Interlocal Agreement starts at 1:32:10
- Special Assessment Police Department R14-18 & R14-19 starts at 1:35:20
- Special Assessment Fire Department R14-16 & R14-17 starts at 1:47:09
- Board Comments start at 1:50:35

My thoughts - Where to start……. 
Thank You Pastor Sinclair for a very nice story and invocation.
Good Turnout, but sadly those kind of turnouts don’t happen at every monthly meeting.

It was brought up several times that the board isn’t listening to the residents.  Actually they are listening and 60% of the voters that came out to vote on November 4th said that they do want these special assessments.  For the Fire Department the votes were 2,190 yes votes and 1,457 no votes.  For the Police Department the votes were 2,142 yes votes and 1,517 no votes.  

The loudest voices are not the only voices in our township.

I hate to go here but let’s discuss the troubled past.  A previous township board did try to put a special assessment through with no input or vote from the residents in 2009/2010.  They had the legal right to do so, but it did not go over well with the residents and they let the board know so.  That whole debacle rivals events that come out of Oakley!  Hopefully those days are past us now.
Fast Forward through all those troubles to the attempts by the township to get millages through for the police and fire departments.  One was done in 2010 but it failed.  What I remember hearing in the community was concerns because it was not specific enough about how much would be going to which departments and I believe there was still much distrust of the township government at that time and there was the issue of the DDA being able to collect a portion of the taxes.   Another millage was attempted in 2012 but it also failed.  If I remember correctly this one was more specific about the amounts and where the money would be going.  The only concern I remember hearing about was the dollar amount that some residents would be getting taxed, especially those with large acreages of land and high value properties.  
The township government listened to the concerns voiced by residents as to why they voted the previous millages down.  When they worked on this current assessment they tried to take those previous concerns into account.  Some people feel this new assessment is fairer to all the residents than the previous millages that were proposed.  Now someone sitting on say, for example 50+ acres of farmland, with a taxable value of over $50,000 will pay the same amount as everyone else.  Large land owners would not use the police and fire services any more than I would so why should they pay more?   This seems fair to me and to others I have talked to.

I understand the concerns voiced by residents at this meeting about the hardship of more taxes. 
There were other valid concerns voiced also like the one by Mr. Lysogorski concerning the 10 percent increase that the board can add to the assessment.  Even though this current board has no plans to do that, a future board may do it. That is where the public participation of the residents becomes important.  Every year the board will review the assessments and it is up to the residents to stay informed on the issue and show up at the meetings.
The ability to add the 10 percent increase is the way the law was written, it is not something that the Bridgeport Township Government snuck into the assessment wording. 
I don’t believe that if the township does add the 10 percent to the assessment amount in any given year that it will accumulate each year.  EX: The police assessment is $37.80 per year.  If they add the 10 percent on one year, that will make it around $41.58 for that year.  I believe that the next year the assessment will be back to the $37.80 that the rate was set at.  I will check with the township offices on that since I prefer to share accurate information.

Sadly there are residents that feel they were either misled or not fully informed about the assessments.  I don’t know what to say.  I have attended the meetings and understood it for months.  I believe there were articles posted in the Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald weekly newspaper but since I have recently put them all out in the recycling I can’t swear they were there or what date they may have been there. 
It was first mentioned at the June 3rd, 2014 Bridgeport Township Board meeting, unfortunately I was not present at that meeting.  It was discussed again at the July 1st township board meeting.  It was also discussed again at the August 6th township board meeting.
The agenda’s for the meetings are posted online before the meetings take place and the minutes are posted online after the meetings.  The agendas of upcoming meetings are posted on the bulletin board outside the main doors of the township government offices.  On the township website  they have the option to sign up for their “constant contact” email.  They send out important and informative notices for everything that goes on in our township.

In my videos I have a presentation by Fire Chief Nelson at the April 14th Building and Grounds Meeting concerning the problems and needs of the fire department.  View it here - April 14th Meeting
There was excellent presentation and discussion at the July 29th Building and Grounds Meeting - July 29th Meeting
And another informative presentation by Fire Chief Nelson and Police Chief Duffett held at the Bridgeport Gun Club in October - October Presentation

I don’t personally believe that the township ever tried to intentionally mislead the residents about the assessment.  Could they have tried other ways to reach out to the residents and let them know the details of the assessment?  Maybe they could have done a mass mailing earlier.  I don’t know what the costs of that would be, and if residents would complain about that cost.  For the residents that do not have access to a computer, maybe something like a monthly newsletter would be helpful.  There again you could be running into a cost issue.  The Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald does seem to carry more Bridgeport news than they did in the past.  The weekly paper is sold in all the local stores and only costs 75 cents per issue.
I personally feel that it is up to the residents to be aware of what is going on, from the local to the federal level; to seek out the information that will affect your quality of life, your taxes, and your future. 

There were some other things brought up about the legality of this assessment.  From the small amount of research I had done earlier about assessments, I had the impression that the township has all the legal aspects done properly.  I don’t have the time, energy, or patience in this blog post to go over this issue.  Perhaps I will in a future post.

It was obvious by some of the comments made during this meeting that residents have not forgotten the troubles of the past boards, of the bridge affair.  While talking with residents of our township it becomes clear that the township board is still disliked, hated might be a more accurate word.  If people cannot let go of the past and work together to move this township forward, there is no hope for the future of our township.

Things that were said and done before, during, and after the meeting reminded me of two events I have experienced in the past.  The first one was an exercise that we did in our 5th grade classroom.  The teacher put all the students in a circle and told the first student a brief story.  That student was to tell the next student the same story, then the second student was to tell the third student and so on.  By the time the last student in the circle repeated the story back to the teacher, it barely resembled the original story.  I guess the moral of the story is don’t believe everything you hear, get the facts straight from the original source.
Another incident happened in college.  There was a class that had part 1 in the fall semester and part 2 in the winter semester.  Teacher A always taught part 1 in the fall and then took the winter semester off.  Part 2 was taught by another teacher, teacher B.  Teacher A had a grudge against teacher B and had for many years.  Teacher A told his young naive impressionable students in the fall class that he wouldn’t be there for the winter class, that instead it would be teacher B.  He neglected to tell them that this is the way it was done every year, instead he led them to believe that this was being forced upon him by the college.  Once the winter semester started with teacher B at the helm, the well-intentioned but gullible students started so much trouble over this that it almost lead to the dismissal of teacher B.  Luckily there was one student who knew the whole story including the long vendetta by teacher A.  That student stood up to the administration with the truth of what was going on.  Teacher B was not dismissed but sadly was disillusioned by the whole sordid affair and did end up taking early retirement afterwards.  This story shows the power that one person with a vendetta, with an agenda, can do with a little twisting of the truth and people that are willing to blindly follow without knowing the whole truth.

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