The cost of operating gas streetlights in the Deer Creek subdivision and three others in Bedford Township was not calculated properly when yearly street-lighting assessments were billed to homeowners.
The Blade/Lori King
TEMPERANCE — Residents of four Bedford Township subdivisions have been granted 34 percent reductions in their street-lighting assessments after they protested overcharges they said were effectively subsidizing streetlights elsewhere in the township.
Township officials had combined assessments for the gas streetlights in the four subdivisions with electric lights there and then lumped those in with nearby “at-large” lights, which serve the general public and are supposed to be paid for separately from the township’s general funds.
The result, residents protested at a hearing, was unfair special assessments that bore little relation to the gas lights’ actual operating costs.
R. LaMar Frederick, a resident of the Deer Creek subdivision in Lambertville, documented the gas-light assessments for the Bedford Township Board and showed how they had risen 10 percent annually in recent years. His research into township finances showed the property owners were subsidizing Bedford’s other streetlights.
Since 2008, the special assessment for Lot 3 in Mr. Frederick’s subdivision had increased 10 percent annually, from $226.55 to $301.53 in 2012, and a proposed increase for 2013 would have boosted it to $364.85. Deer Creek has 14 gas streetlights.
Mr. Frederick described the increases as “confiscatory” and an unlawful assessment, and said the township was required by Michigan law to align the assessments with costs. He said the township was legally obliged to “assess properly the cost of such benefit [the streetlight] pursuant to the provisions of Michigan law, and not one penny more.”
Mr. Frederick was perhaps uniquely qualified to lead the charge on his neighbors’ behalf: A former attorney and corporate official, he also spent years as the Bedford Township supervisor and chairman of the Monroe County Board of Commissioners.
“The public showed us that there were errors in our ways,” Supervisor Greg Stewart said.
Ken Weaver, another Deer Creek resident, believed the reduction should be 42 percent. He said the 10 percent increase per year was pulled out of the air, with no justification.
In the end, the board approved a 34 percent reduction in assessments for gas streetlights and froze the assessments on electric streetlights. Bedford’s three other subdivisions with gas streetlights — Fordway, Canterbury Forest, and Smith Centennial Estates — will get the same reductions as Deer Creek.
During the same public hearing, the township board received input on proposed changes in Bedford’s policy regarding street-lighting special-assessment districts. The modifications were intended to update the policy and put it in conformance with changes in state law, but board members had reservations after hearing from Mr. Frederick and other residents.
Board members and members of the public objected to a change that would allow the board to hike assessments without a public hearing. Township attorney Phil Goldsmith explained that this was to save the expense of mass-mailing notifications to residents, and that the board still would be able to advertise proposed new assessments before they were adopted.
When it became clear the board votes were not there for adoption, the matter was tabled until the board’s Nov. 19 meeting.