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Special Assessment Districts For Lakes
 Made Easy

Assisting Townships with the Process
Setting up a special assessment district for a lake to fund efforts to control invasive and nuisance aquatic weeds is often a relatively easy solution to a complex problem.  Special assessment districts for aquatic weed control purposes have been in widespread use by many townships throughout Michigan for decades.  The Michigan Townships Association (“MTA”) often recommends such districts.  At the current time, it is likely that dozens (if not over 100) Michigan townships have such lake special assessment districts in place.

Despite the widespread use of special assessment districts for aquatic weed control purposes, officials in many townships are unfamiliar with how to set up such a special assessment district.  Even many township attorneys are not well-versed in the process.  Finally, some townships have tried to set up such districts on their own without expert legal help and have created defective districts.

We have assisted many townships throughout Michigan in setting up and administering special assessment districts for aquatic weed treatment purposes.  On many occasions, we have served as local legal counsel for a township that wants to properly create a lake special assessment district.  As special legal counsel, we have often been hired by a township on a one-project basis.  Furthermore, general legal counsel for a particular township often welcomes our assistance in setting up a special assessment district given the fairly complicated procedural aspects involved.

When we are retained by a township to set up a special assessment district, we provide the township with all necessary documents (including resolutions, public hearing notices, and other important documents).  We also supply the township with a handy outline or checklist to follow that assists township officials with the process, including the type of meetings and public hearings that must be held, when public hearing notices must be put in the newspaper, answers to commonly-asked questions, and similar matters.

Frequently, some township officials worry about nonlake taxpayers having to bear the costs of establishing or administering a special assessment district.  That normally should not be a concern, since once the district is established, any and all costs associated with setting up and administering the district (including attorney fees, postage for public notices, newspaper public hearing notice costs, etc.) can be “rolled into” the district and are paid by the property owners within the special assessment district.  Furthermore, any ongoing costs of administering the district yeartoyear (which are normally minimal) are also paid from the funds in the district.

If your township decides to proceed with a special assessment district, it will be important to involve expert legal counsel at an early stage.  It is also usually prudent to have the township’s legal counsel review the proposed property owner petitions that will be circulated by the lake property owners who are in favor of the district before they are used, so that it can be ensured that the correct petition form and language are used.  Nothing is more frustrating for citizens than to put a great deal of time and effort into circulating petitions, only to be advised later by the township that the form or wording of the petition is not legally sufficient and that the petition process must start over again.

Generally, our legal fees for assisting township officials with establishing and setting up a special assessment district for aquatic weed control purposes are in the range of $1,700 to $3,300.  Typically, costs for postage for required mailings and newspaper public hearing notice costs are in the range of $300 to $1,000, although that could vary depending on the number of properties involved.  While we are happy to attend any meetings that the township deems necessary (at an agreedupon hourly rate), our experience in the past has been that it is generally not necessary for us to attend meetings.

If you or any other officials for your township have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact municipal attorney Cliff Bloom at (616) 965-9342, or email him at cbloom@bsmlawpc.com.  For more information regarding special assessment districts for lakes, statutory lake boards, township zoning regulations regarding lakes, and similar matters, please go to the website of the Michigan Lake & Stream Associations, Inc. at www.mymlsa.org or go to Cliff’s publications.  Finally, The Michigan Riparian Magazine has a wealth of information regarding lakes, township ordinances relating to lakes, and similar matters and its web page can be accessed at www.mi-riparian.org.

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