Friday, February 15, 2013

Sanitary Sewer Extensions and "Special Favors" ??

Bloomfield Township, MI....
The seven elected officials (Supervisor, Treasurer, Clerk and 4 Trustees)  along with Township Attorney, Bill Hampton heard agenda items at the regularly scheduled Board of Trustee meeting on Monday, February 11, 2013.

Before the meeting, I wrote a blog that I tweeted  @HiAllMarcia   and also sent via email to my "list" and asked them to forward it to friends and family living in Bloomfield Township.  My blog can also be found in The Oakland Press.  (a technical glich does not currently show my blog titles, but I am there.) I often also post the exact blog or a variation of the blog on Bloomfield Patch

This 2/11/13 agenda item #6   with my comment (copied below) from my blog is the background for this blog. 
Agenda item # 6... a sanitary sewer extension.. really set off some bells for me.  The board packet simply mentions that a "builder" made contact with the Township wanting a sewer instead of septic system for the new home to be built.  Notice: no name of builder.  The board packet mentions that 5 other properties are currently on septic systems, but may need or want to connect to the sewer in the future. Notice: no property addresses for those five locations were given.  The board packet indicates that the township provided engineering and the bidding out the contract and wishes to award the contract at this meeting.  Your tax dollars.   The construction cost to be paid by the township and reimbursed by those that connect to the sewer (when? and who?   but not recorded here "on the record" or as a S.A.D. ?).  My opinion:  Why isn't there a petition from the six homes needing a sewer with 51% approval needed and the forming of a S.A.D. to identify the responsible properties and to  arrange for the repayment of the costs to the township ON THE RECORD?  Why the different treatment for some taxpayers?  When some on my street wanted sewers, we could not get enough signatures to make it a go.  In a different situation, someone else in my subdivision got permission from the township to put in a private sewer to his new home being built on a different road.  That sewer line went past about 4 other homes.  Those homeowners had no say in the project, saw no bids, but now have an approximately $20,000 bill  IF or WHEN those homeowners want to connect to the private...now township owned sewer.  There is/was no S.A.D.  arrangement then with a 10-15 year agreement to pay.  Was this special treatment then? YES. Was it fair?  NO.   Does this agenda item sound like special treatment?   My opinion, YES again.   This item should be TABLED and petitions circulated.  According to the township website:  
  • Special Assessment Districts (SAD)
  • Public water mains and sanitary sewers are typically extended to serve established neighborhoods by means of the special assessment process. The Engineering and Environmental Services Department provides petitions with cost estimates for future water and sewer extensions in the planning phase of creating a Special Assessment District (SAD).


What happened at the 2/11/13  Board Meeting?
The Board meeting is on the township website  (audio/video) view .    The actual written minutes must be approved at the next meeting scheduled for 2/25/13.  The following agenda item from 2/11/13 is the concern and subject of this blog:



I did not attend the Board of Trustees meeting but did watch it on Comcast Cable 15 at 7 pm as it was presented LIVE.   I have been told, that the Trustees get the Board Packet at the same time as the public, which is typically sometime during the day (Thursday) prior to the Monday meeting.  The Township offices are closed on Friday... something that the Trustees voted on years ago to "save money". (I won't go there right now.)  Therefore, the window of opportunity to ask questions or do research on an agenda item is limited. Township residents need to actually attend or view the Board meeting via cable to understand the agenda item and learn the outcome of the decision making.
 
I was shocked at the lack of facts and details during the presentation of agenda item # 6 to the Board of Trustees and particularly to the public...(video discussion for this issue: starts at 1:17:53 and ends 1:18:53). One minute! Some might argue that since the agenda item was to award the contract and the presentation dealt only with the bid/contract that the presentation was proper and complete.   
Question: If only part of the issue is on the agenda...what part was missing?  How many people would know that parts of the issue are missing and more importantly, why?  Why hold back pertinent information?  Where were the facts and details of who authorized the project to be designed by the Township Engineering department without a S.A.D. and who authorized the project be put out for bids?  Where is the authority to approve a contract when the project hasn't been before the Board previously?
Question: Had this project come before the Board of Trustees at an earlier date? Did the Township Attorney give the OK to proceed with sanitary sewer extension projects throughout the township without following township procedure...giving what appears to be "special favors"??  I don't know. Did the Trustees know the details before they voted to approve?  If yes, then how and when? That kind of information was NOT in the Board Packet.  Is that information available?

An employee, Olivia Olsztyn-Budry, a staff engineer for the township, stood at the podium, announced that bids were requested via the MITN site and on January 21, 2013 had received 14 bids for the project.  With advice from Hubbell Roth & Clark (HRC), consulting engineering...  the low bidder is the recommended company to award the contract.

The cost of construction (according to the winning bid)  is over $75,000.   Does that include the costs from the engineering department and other costs by township employees or by HRC consulting services for work already performed?  No. There was no line item from the contractor for those in- house and contracted services. That's not their work.  Therefore, more dollars need to be added to the cost of this project by the Township and by HRC.    
IF this was a S.A.D. project, as I believe should have been the legal way to do it, all six property owners would have petitioned for the work to be done and they and the  public would have the total  cost already estimated and the cost "share" of each property owner would be known.  AFTER that process is completed, a construction contract is awarded.  A payment plan provided.

A representative from HRC was mentioned earlier in the meeting as being present in the audience.  He/she was not asked to speak to this agenda item.   The Supervisor asked Board Members if anyone had any questions for Ms. Olsztyn-Budry and there being NONE, asked for public comment.  No one from the audience came forward and thus, the Supervisor asked for a motion to approve.  So moved. Unanimous vote in favor.  WHAT?   When and where did the 4 Trustees as well as the Supervisor, Clerk and Treasurer and Township Attorney first learn of this project and approve the bid process to even AWARD a contract?

No one on the Board, nor the township attorney, said or asked ANYTHING... didn't ask why this was not being bid out as a S.A.D. , didn't ask what were the property addresses affected, didn't ask who was eventually paying the cost and what were the terms, didn't ask who the builder was and if the builder was paying the bill and passing the cost on to the owners of the new home.  What kind of open and transparent government is this?  Our four Trustees are supposed to be there to protect the interests of the taxpayers and provide oversight to the activities and expenses, etc. of the township.  This action taken at the 2/11/13 meeting appears that certain people get "special favors"??  Why?  My suggestion (in my blog) for Board action was:  This item should be TABLED and petitions circulated.

The Board Packet mentioned that the Township had done a few other sanitary sewer extensions in this manner (without S.A.D. I assume)  in the past..more "special favors"??  ....as if that information justified this project.  No links were provided on how to find that 2007 information mentioned in the Board Packet.  I did not research those old minutes.

The Township didn't remember or perhaps chose not to mention in the Board Packet another known "special favor" ?? that occurred on Longmeadow Rd. in the township.  This is where the Township permitted a homeowner to privately put in a sanitary sewer extension down the public road past other homes. Then the township made a "legal agreement" nine years later to force others on the street to pay over $21,000 to connect to that sewer line...when and IF a connection is wanted or needed.  See Minutes on Demand, Board of Trustees, Minutes, March 22, 2010My note: the written minutes of 3/22/10 were done by the township... and there was no audio/video recording of meetings at that time. This was one meeting I attended and from that point on I was determined to lobby for the Township meetings  to be audio/video and archived. What I heard was so unfair ... and done to a friend and neighbor.  
Note:  I am still lobbying for ZBA and Planning Commission meetings to have the same audio/video archived meetings.  The Township is resisting and most likely will not have this "open and transparent coverage"  until the Township residents demand it.

Are/were there other "special favors"??  Yes! in my opinion. In fact, just a few months ago:

On September 24, 2012, there was another project on the Board of Trustees agenda similar to this 2/11/13 Romford Dr. sanitary sewer extension issue:
from: Minutes on Demand.



Question: Did this homeowner with the failing septic system in the above minutes TRY to get a S.A.D. and perhaps could NOT get 51% of the neighbors to sign the petition for sewers? The minutes indicate that the homeowner contacted the Township over a year ago.  Was an alternate solution planned for this homeowner by someone at the township?  Was there a suggestion to avoid the S.A.D and we'll get it done?  What if that is the case, and I have no knowledge that it is, the township just committed 4 other property owners to an assessment that they didn't want or perhaps didn't even know about.  There was another option for the homeowner:  an engineered septic system.  It is expensive...but an option that did not commit the neighbors to an assessment.  There was no mention of the addresses for the other four properties that would need to "reimburse" the township  nor the TOTAL cost figure
 
So, is this the new/old norm? Do some people get "special favors" ??  and others don't? Why?

Even if the Township tells the taxpayers that the costs will be paid the question still remains: WHEN and HOW MUCH?    Township answer:   "...when there is a connection.." How many years will the taxpayers WAIT for a connection by unnamed homeowners at unnamed addresses to pay an unknown bill?  WHO in what township department will know many years after the fact who owes money and how much if there is no information "on the record" ?  A  S.A.D.  process records the purchasers and the dollar amount and sets the schedule for repayment over a certain number of years to the township. The amount is found on the tax bill every year it is to be collected.    It is the legal way to do this.  When all properties have paid all the funds via the S.A.D.  the Township Board puts the S.A.D. item back on the agenda and formally closes/ends the particular S.A.D. agreement.... "on the record".   The Township should follow it's own procedures and protect the citizens.

I believe that there are a few people in the Township that knowingly limits information given to the public about an issue(s).  "What we (the public) don't know won't hurt us."  is not true. There are pages and pages of ordinances and procedures to follow. It is the employees job as well as the trustees and especially the attorney to know them and to follow them.  The public hasn't read all that information and naturally wants to trust those in authority.

However, when the members of the Board of Trustees and the Township Attorney all sit quietly and ask no questions and give/get  no supporting details and facts ...as if everything is in order and seemingly legal, most from the general public think that all was done properly.  But was it? By not putting the details "on the record"  through the S.A.D. process and not documenting WHO pays for the sewer extension to 5-6 properties that is agenda item # 6, one conclusion is you pay.  Your tax dollars are being spent to pay for someone else's sewer line to pass by their house. Waiting for a "connection" payment takes money out of the current budget and may eventually be "lost" in the long process to collect the amount due.

When there appears to be an incomplete presentation of an agenda item and seven people and the township attorney sit silent and then actually make a motion to approve.... the word "collusion" comes to my mind.  Maybe too strong of a word choice...  but definitely NOT OPEN and NOT TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT.

Have there been "special favors" ?? at the township as it relates to sanitary sewer extensions for some properties? My opinion: YES.  I'll bet you that an entire subdivision lacking sewers or a very long road would need petitions and a S.A.D. agreement.  As it should.  As all properties should.  As the Township website indicates is the procedure.  How hard is that?

My thoughts and opinions on the subject.
Marcia Robovitsky



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