HARRISON – After the successful election passage of Hayes Township’s ordinance enforcement millage proposal, the township board has been working steadily to set in motion the wheels that will get the blight clean-up wagon where it needs to go. At a board workshop held Nov. 18, several potential models from other municipalities/townships were taken into consideration.
Essentially, the township plans to contract with Clare County for the actual enforcement of its nuisance ordinances. The reality of the situation is that blight has been allowed to fester in the township for many decades, thus it will not see a speedy remedy.
“We have to start simple,” said Rick Jones, township supervisor, noting that the pot of millage money is limited and it will take multiple years to resolve the blight issue.
He also cited the list of items which would be considered violations which the county would be asked to address, including:
Abandoned Vehicles: unlicensed, nonoperative, dismantled or partially dismantle vehicles, or outside storage of vehicles in repair.
Blighted Structures: No longer inhabitable as a dwelling; No longer for the purpose for which it may have been intended; Prevent entrance by vandals or other unauthorized persons; or Partially dismantled mobile homes or buildings.
Junk: Parts of machinery or motor vehicles; Unusable furniture or appliances; or Remnants of wood, metal or other cast-off material.
Trash and Rubbish: Maintain property to avoid rodents and other creatures that may be harmful to the health, safety and welfare of surrounding residents.
Jones said that that list had been submitted the county, and that it had not said “no” to any of the items.
He and Maye Tessner-Rood, township treasurer, also described their tour of the township that day, where they had counted 250 abandoned, unlicensed, untagged vehicles in just seven subdivisions, one place with eight tractors (referred to as yard art), and one property with 13 Sea-Doos in the yard and another 20 vehicles in the back.
The board perused and evaluated multiple sources from other counties, as well as examples of ways to pursue its goals. One was a Code Compliance Procedure Manual titled “One person’s junk…Is not the municipality’s treasure.” It included handling of compliance procedural instructions, from original complaint to investigation, to presentation of violation evidence to both the township’s designee and the property owner, giving the property owner a suggested 30-day period in which to correct the violations. This would then be followed up on with another inspection, and if violations persist another 30 days could be allowed for correcting them.
Again, this was provided as a guideline for possible use. Another reference was the Lincoln Township Nuisance Ordinance, which was considered to be a very close match to what Hayes Township was seeking. Combining that with the Violation Flow Chart used by the county, board members were able to amass a strong, inclusive draft of what was deemed to be an appropriate ordinance base.
Using these guides, the board settled on a specific set of goals, modeling them after other entities’ successful practices, with the plan to present the ordinance review and interlocal agreement to the township’s attorney for review and approval Monday, Nov. 22. That meeting did happen, and the township’s ordinance enforcement framework was solidified, ready for the next step in the process. The process includes publishing a notice of the adoption of the new zoning ordinance (see page 9 in this Nov. 25, 2021 issue), and after seven days the ordinance goes into effect.
Jones spoke to the countywide hope that this program will be successful.
“Because if it is, other townships are going to join in,” he said. “That way they can hire another enforcement officer, which means there will be more enforcement.”
Just prior to the close of the workshop, it was noted that during a recent Harrison City Council workshop, the topic of the city possibly annexing a portion of Hayes Township had been introduced. If that actually occurred, it would mean the residents of that annexed land would be required to pay high Harrison city taxes rather than the far lower township tax rate.
And while the seemingly benevolent legality of assuring the township would continue to receive its current equivalent portion of those newly collected taxes for the next 50 years, the fact remains that those property owners who had chosen to own/live in the township rather than the city would be on the hook for substantial, unanticipated taxes. Tessner-Rood, who had learned of the possibility just that day, took great exception to the township not having been notified by the City of Harrison about that discussion/consideration, rather than hearing it as scuttlebutt after the fact.
“I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have any open dialogue with us, since I’m on Harrison Economic Development,” Tessner-Rood said. “We’ve shared Planning Commission stuff, we’ve shared Parks and Rec.”
She then referred to 37.5 acres along U.S. 27 and 40 acres off Old County Farm Road, noting the advantage of those two properties is their commercial zoning. Tessner-Rood also suggested the board’s Nov. 22 meeting agenda include getting the township’s attorney onboard early.
“Even if it doesn’t come to fruition, we need to protect our taxpayers who have purchased the property in Hayes because they did not want to pay city taxes for commercial property,” she said. “It’s a big difference between a .77 and 18 or 19 mills. I think we need to be proactive and be aware of what’s going on around us.”
Tessner-Rood insisted she had no interest in a tug-o-war, as it has taken a long time to rebuild a relationship after the ’70s and ’80s discord between the city and township. She also said she believed there would be some open discussions about what happened and how it occurred.
Jones then handed out information about the process of City Detachment, a method by which a township can attempt to turn the tables on a city seeking to capture its property. He explained that detachment starts with a petition signed by city and township electors equal to at least 1% of the combined city and township population (at least 100 signatures and at least 10 signatures each from the city and the township). Detachment allows property to be removed from a city and returned to the township by an election in the city and township combined. This is a process that requires no involvement before the Boundary Commission and can be accomplished in a few months’ time.
Passing out a copy of the City of Harrison Zoning Map, Jones suggested the township could consider going after “everything in white.” That would be quite a leveraging action, as the white portion of that map is roughly equivalent to one-fourth of the city’s land area.
It should be understood that no action has been taken by the city, but it should be equally obvious that Hayes Township has no intention of quietly relinquishing any of its land area simply because the city it surrounds might want a chunk.
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