Lansing Township debates emergency services assessment

Trustees expected to ‘reevaluate’ tax hike after community complaints

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FRIDAY, Oct. 22 — Homeowners in Lansing Township may see an increase on their winter tax bills this year under a newly proposed special assessment designed to boost funding for police and fire services. Township officials could approve the measure next week.

A special assessment set for a second public hearing on Tuesday proposes an extra charge to winter taxes on all non-exempt property in the township to help cover the salaries and benefits of its police officers and firefighters, as well to purchase new equipment for its first responders.

The township says that without the increase, services will have to be cut.

But not all residents are eager to support the measure.

Several people spoke out at a township board meeting this month to complain about the potential for higher tax bills, as well as the length of the proposed 10-year assessment, which aims to collect about $1.54 million annually for the Police and Fire departments through 2032.

Township Clerk Maggie Sanders has also received several letters opposed to the proposal. Supervisor Dion’Trae Hayes said those recent concerns will be considered ahead of the next public hearing, at 7 p.m.  Wednesday,  at the Lansing Township Hall,  the same night trustees could also pass the resolution.

Any time residents speak in opposition to an issue, their elected leaders should listen,” Hayes told City Pulse. “Some supported the proposed assessment, many opposed it and others had questions. Some constituents offered valuable feedback and stated legitimate concerns.”

In light of those concerns, the township board plans to “reevaluate various aspects” of the assessment,  including the possibility of shortening its duration or reducing the overall tax rate, Hayes said, also noting that she’s also working to “improve communications” with homeowners.

“At the end of our last meeting this month, I assured them that I heard their frustrations and that I would work to improve this,” Hayes explained. “I plan to keep my word. They deserve that.”

Hayes said the assessment was “necessary” last month, according to meeting minutes. The proposed resolution calls for splitting cash collected through the assessment just about evenly between the Police and Fire departments — mostly for salaries and benefits, but also to purchase new vehicles, renovate facilities and upgrade technology and buy other equipment.

A frequently-asked-questions page from the township noted that “a cut in services would become necessary” should the assessment fail to pass. Without offsetting expenses through additional funding, “services cannot continue at their current levels,” it reads.

With costs for services and equipment escalating, it is becoming increasingly necessary to raise additional funding to maintain our current level of service. Without additional funding, the township would be forced to reevaluate services and staffing levels,” township officials wrote.

With a combined budget of about $3.5 million next year, the Police and Fire departments at Lansing Township account for about 77% of its overall general fund budget. Under the newly proposed assessment, a home with a taxable value of $50,000 would see a $257.20 increase on its winter tax bill this year — and every year for the next 10 years through at least 2032.

Even so,some residents would rather avoid another financial burden while the pandemic continues. 

“This isn't the right time. Everyone has been suffering financially due to COVID-19. I understand the need for the assessment, but disagree with the timing,” wrote local resident Don Kwak. “The municipality must share the hardship with the residents. It is utterly unfair that the government will raise taxes because they can while the citizens suffer. I would rather take reduced services.”

Township resident Christine Bennett also wrote a letter in opposition, noting that the “extremely bloated” police budget would instead be better spent on community-oriented violence reduction programs, economic development, affordable housing and more investments in education.

Similarly, Laura Hornshaw also opposed any more cash for cops. She would rather see the assessment split into two — one for the Fire Department and one for the Police Department.

“Perhaps if they ever bothered to actually protect and serve, that would be one thing,” she said.

Added Jeff and Betsy Banghart: “The audacity of the board to impose such a massive tax hike is infuriating. A proposal such as this requires a vote by the people and to deny the people the ability to make such a decision is cowardly and un-American. Stop this foolish endeavor now before it destroys the holidays of many families with a tax debt they are unable to pay.”

With 8,100 residents, Lansing Township already maintains one of the largest annual revenue rates of any other township in Greater Lansing — raising about $1,059 in revenue per capita, according to state data compiled by Munetrix. Still, township officials are keen to emphasize that only about 21% of property taxes collected head directly to the coffers at Lansing Township.

Check back for continued coverage as the board continues to evaluate the proposal. 

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