Fabius Township approves boundaries for special assessment district

The Fabius Township Board approved the boundary of a special tax assessment district on Edgewood Drive during a public hearing at its monthly meeting Wednesday evening. 

The district encompasses 21 properties on the road, which intersects Coon Hollow Road between Clear Lake and Corey Lake. A special assessment district is a short-term tax district with an expiration date. In most cases, its purpose is to collect funds for projects from which the persons being taxed will benefit. In this case, the assessment will pay for two chip and seal road surface treatments, once in 2022 and once in 2029.

Because the road is privately owned by the adjacent residents, the township cannot pay for the road. Instead, the township will lend just under $9,000 to the project, which it will receive back with five percent interest. The project, which also includes other minor improvements and administrative costs, has an estimated total cost of $88,534. Each of the 21 parcels involved will pay an equal share of $4,216 over the course of 15 years.

Wednesday’s vote approved the assessment boundary around the involved properties. At its August meeting, the township will hold another public hearing to vote on these costs.

Sue Wohld collected the required 75 percent favorable petition signatories from among the affected property owners. “I have spoken personally with all these people and they are really happy with it,” Wohld said, with the exception of one or two owners. Assessor Dale Hutson said he will send out a notice about the vote to residents next week, including information regarding the August public hearing on project costs.

Assessor Describes Appeals Process

Hutson said property assessment work has resumed with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, and the assessors, Charlie and Donna Casper of Hutson’s Assessing are catching up on site visits. He said he has notified the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department; whose staff is aware of their vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers.

Because of the pandemic, some boards of review were unable to complete their March review hours, which meant property owners who wished to contest assessed values did not have an opportunity to do so, according to Hutson. Normally, a December meeting would be sufficient to handle reviews, but state regulators have authorized boards of review to permit appeals in July. 

Since Hutson has received no petitions of protest, and because there is insufficient time to advertise a public meeting, there is no July review meeting scheduled, he said. However, “any property owner wishing to protest can go straight to the Michigan Tax Tribunal,” Hutson said. According to Hutson, protest letters and petitions do not have to go to Lansing. Rather, appeals can be taken typically at either the St. Joseph County Courthouse or in an adjacent county.

Deputy Addresses Fireworks Complaints

St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Deputy Devantae Jennings, who is assigned to Fabius Township, discussed fireworks complaints during the month of June with members of the board. Jennings and Township Board Supervisor John Kroggel received regular complaints throughout the month of June regarding fireworks violations, including a hotspot on Shafer Brothers Road.

Jennings has responded to many of the calls. “I had one last night, they were shooting fireworks up in the air, and I was lucky enough to find it. That’s not always the case,” he said. Kroggel said residents should not call 911 to report fireworks, but they can call the non-emergency number at the Sheriff’s Department. Jennings said for every call received, an officer will respond and search the area where the report is made. 

Regarding one visit where he identified the source of fireworks, Jennings said he issued a warning. He said his next visit to the same residence would result in a citation. “It was my first stop there, but I spoke to them, and I haven’t had an issue since. Once people realize it’s a $1,000 citation, for a lot of people (that is) a lot of money.” 

According to local ordinance, Jennings said, “there should be no fireworks now until Labor Day. We encourage folks to call it in.”

Jennings also reported breaking and entering and larceny reports declined for the month. He mentioned an easement issue near the intersection of Coon Hollow and Vernon Roads, wherein trespassers causing damage were reported to the Sheriff’s Office on land reserved for a private park for Clearview Estates. Kroggel said it is a private property issue in which the township cannot intervene. Jennings said he encouraged the landowners to have the property surveyed and marked as private.

Township Discusses Zoning, Planning Issues

Kroggel reported on an ongoing dispute with a property owner over several outbuildings and auxiliary structures that he said were not permitted, encroached on neighboring properties, and caused other violations. The owner, who Zoning Administrator Doug Kuhlman said submitted incorrect paperwork from another jurisdiction and thus did not receive his permits before proceeding with the work anyway, has filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) alleging discriminatory treatment because he is disabled. 

That MDCR case has not yet been settled, but the township board authorized Kuhlman to move forward with attempting to work with the owner to get him into compliance with the permitting process. Kroggel said he spoke to the township’s attorney, who said there was “no reason not to pursue having him apply for permits. It sets a real bad precedent not to have someone at least try to work with us through the (Zoning Board of Appeals).”

Kroggel also reported he received complaints about people camping for an extended amount of time on a residential property at Clear Lake. Board members discussed how to interpret the ordinances that would regulate whether such camping is allowed. Kuhlman clarified the township’s ordinances say a property “shall not be occupied for more than 14 days per year” for camping.

Fabius Constable Don Falborski said, some people who have property on a lake will have somone with “a pop-up camper who’ll want to stay for the weekend. To me, I can’t see a problem with that, but if you’ve got one piece of property and five campers on it and you’re trying to turn it into a campground, that might be a problem. But individuals camping on their own property by a lake for a weekend doesn’t seem to be a big problem to me.”

Planning Commission Chair Ken Linn said the commission will be working on its typical annual revisions to zoning code text at its upcoming meeting. He said the commission would review language that pertains to camping. “We’ll take a look at it. If there are any changes to recommend, we’ll roll that right into the other cleanup we’re doing on the ordinances.”

New Plow Service Selected

Following problems with minor damage to signs and other issues with the previous supplier of snow plowing services for the Township Hall property, Trustee Cliff Maxwell negotiated a quote of $55 per plow job from First Impressions, down from an initial quote of $75. The board approved switching to the new service. Maxwell also proposed other measures to protect the signs, but Township Clerk Carol Wilkins recommended waiting on any expenditures until after pandemic revenue impacts become clearer.

Dave Vago is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.

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