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 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 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"?? 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 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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Update on Safety Path Study Session 2/13/13

Hi All,
UPDATE:  of previous blog posted Sunday, February 10, 2013.
This morning I was the only person in the audience for the Safety Path review study session. That was disappointing to me. What I can report is that the Board voted to proceed with two projects that already have the initial engineering process completed. Next step I suppose is going to the county and MDOT for further review and permits to do the work in the road right-of-ways???

Those 2 projects are:
  • Square Lake Rd.... north side / east of Opdyke. It will continue an existing sidewalk from the west that currently ends at the I-75 connector entrance. The new path will continue to go west on Square Lake Rd. to Opdyke Rd. so the residents may connect to existing sidewalks going north and south on Opdyke Rd. The challenge of this proposed extension will be getting safely across the intersection of Square Lake and I-75 entrance/exit ramps. Currently it is a three way stop intersection.
  • The second project is the south side of Maple Rd., Bradford to Westbourne. Once this section of safety path is completed, there will be a continuous safety path from the border of Birmingham/Twp on the east to the west border of the Township (Inkster??) just along the SOUTH side of Maple.
The Board has approximately $1.5 million dollars collected from taxes 12/12 for this year's safety paths. These two projects are just over $500,000. I hope the Township develops more engineering plans for paths that are on the 2008 master plan or other identified needed paths with the $750,000 plus already collected. The proposed preliminary budget for 2013/2014 indicates that paths will be constructed.  Apparently, the 2008 current millage will collect  on  12/13 ... $$  another $1.5 million  for 2014/2015 budget and more safety path construction.

There was some confusion at the Board Table as to when the 2008 5 year millage money collection ended.  Each millage was for 5 years.  1998/99  was the initial Safety Path millage.  In 2004, the millage was renewed for another 5 years.   Then the millage was renewed for another 5 years in 2008..   It was concluded that money will be collected in December 2013 for safety paths, and that 1.5 milllion will be to build more paths in 2014/2015 budget.  Or, so it seems.  There is/was talk among the Board members as to possibly NOT spend that 12/13 money for more paths, but to "bank" it in the safety path fund thus taking the $1.5 million to give approximate $100,000 per year for ten plus years for repairs/maintenance.  I think that conversation was basically if NOT asking for another 5 year ballot renewal or for fear that a new ballot proposal may fail.  The township wants dedicated safety path money for repairs/maintenance.  IF the Board decides to put another renewal on the ballot, they should do that sometime in 2013....although they mentioned doing that in 2014.

I would hope that the Township Board would actively seek CITIZEN input for any requested safety path needs yet to be performed.  After all, there has been 15 years of building safety paths and over 67 miles built.   IF those citizen requested projects justify a need for another millage, those paths should be clearly identified BEFORE the request for another millage.  I do worry about an enormous safety path bridge over I-75 .. at I'm sure a huge cost on the current master plan.  Is that necessary?
These are the conversations many citizens should be engaging the Township Board.  What are their needs?  What does your subdivision want?  Many people should be requesting ...  not just one or two wanting to cross the road.

Since the 2008 safety path millage was for BUILDING safety paths, I think the money already collected and the money to be collected from the 12/13 tax collection should be spent on actually building safety paths, not "banked" in the dedicated Safety Path fund.

I also think that maintenance/ repairs at estimated $100,000 / year CAN and SHOULD come out of the General Fund when the Township and the citizens END the Safety Path MILLAGE collections and any money already "banked" since 1999  in that safety path fund is exhausted. I did not get the current balance of that fund.  Need to contact the Twp. Treasurer.

The engineering and other departments will be gathering information for the Board's review in late March or April.  Stay tuned for more Safety Path information.

It was a good meeting.   Too bad the Board chooses to do this type of discussion at a study session that is NOT recorded.  This topic could have easily been an agenda item on a regularly scheduled Board of Trustees meeting.  Taxpayers could/should be watching and listening to how the leadership and key employees along with opportunities for citizen input can work toward seeking information and  decision making on individual topics.  This meeting was a lost "web or cable TV" opportunity to educate the public and the young people learning about government .... specifically on the safety path program.

Best advice:  Contact the leadership at the township and invite someone to speak to your subdivision if safety paths are a concern.  Individuals are also welcome to contact the township via phone, email or in person to discuss safety paths.  The Board is seeking information about missing sections to the paths system and any safety issues or maintenance problems.   Please do it SOON.  Construction season is coming and engineering plans and permitting takes time.

Part of this blog is a form of a comment I posted at:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Safety Paths - Program Ends/New Millage in Future?

Hi All,
There is a scheduled Study Session on Wednesday, February 13, 2013  @ 9 AM  in the Township main hall.    Here is the (tentative) Safety Path Review Agenda:

1.      History of Safety Path Program
2.      Budget for Safety Path Program
3.      Proposed 2013 Routes
4.      Maintenance for Safety Paths
5.      Future  Routes on Master Plan
6.      Discussion/ Action

The seven members of the Board of Trustees and most likely employees that have worked with safety paths in the past from the Engineering and Environment Departments and others will engage in a discussion as to the direction of the program in the future.  The public is encouraged to attend and the Board of Trustees will permit comments from the public.  I have gathered information from the Township website for your review prior to the meeting.

1.  HERE IS A LINK FOR SOME HISTORY OF THE SAFETY PATH PROGRAM THAT BEGAN IN 1999 ...please read the one page history at this link. *****Go to this site to also find a MAP of the Township and Safety Paths.

2012 Safety Path Program
This year’s program includes construction of new paths in the following locations:

  • Telegraph Road – west side from Maple Road to Sandalwood Drive. (.4 miles)
  • Telegraph Road – west side from Long Lake Road to Exeter Road. (.2 miles)
  • Square Lake Road – north side from Bowers Farm to Adams Road. (.1 miles)
  • Adams Road – west side from Square Lake Road to Ashover Drive (.7 miles)

In 2011, Bloomfield Township constructed the following paths:

  • 14 Mile Road – north side from Telegraph Road to Lahser Road (1.04 miles)
  • 14 Mile Road – north side from Orchard Lane to Crosswick Road (.54 miles)
  • Telegraph Road – west side from Orchard Way to Maple Road (.2 miles)
  • Covington Road – west side from Amberly Road to Covington Middle School (.42 miles)
  • Square Lake Road – south side from the International Academy to Squirrel Road (.21 miles)
  • Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) will completed construction of Township requested paths on Telegraph Road, utilizing Federal ARRA funding, totaling 2.4 miles.


From the Bloomfield Township WEBSITE on BUDGET:

 The following is just a part of the minutes from November 12, 2012 Board of Trustees meeting concerning an agenda item on Safety Paths:

From the UPDATE to the Strategic Plan
"Many of our residents enjoy our 67 miles of safety paths. While it was never our intention to keep the safety paths clear of snow in the winter (we do not have the resources to keep them consistently and reliably free of ice and snow), we do work hard the rest of the year to keep them maintained."

 [PDF] Bloomfield Township Public Works Annual Report 2010
...They are also responsible for administering the state highway landscape maintenance contract and the safety path and outlot mowing contracts....


[PDF] Spring 2004 Newsletter
...The interest, the Township Board, Township currently has working with consulting approximately 29 miles of engineers, developed a presafety paths; 20 miles of paths liminary Safety Path Master were constructed between Plan. 1999 and 2003 with funds The Plan: provided by the first safety P Identifies and locates path millage.... 



  • Should the Township authorize another special millage for more safety paths?
  • Should the Township authorize a special millage just for the purpose of repair and maintenance of existing safety paths?
  • IF your answer is yes, for how many years and at what rate?
  • Should the Township let the Safety Path millage expire in 2013?
  • Does anyone have a different possible action concerning the Safety Paths?

  • Remember, that special millages may ONLY BE SPENT on the issue/program as stated on the ballot.  The money may not be used for any other township purpose.  For that reason, my opinion is to have the SAFETY PATH millage  EXPIRE in 2013 and NOT be RENEWED.
  • The General Fund can and should be used for township purposes.  In 2010, the voters approved a 1.3 mill as an  "operational millage".   That millage is for ten years and collects approximately 4 million dollars per year.  This money may be used for safety paths.
  • Adjust the routes (if needed) to be built with the already collected  1.5 million dollars for 2013 to fulfill a void in the connections of the paths.
  • The Township should report the amount of excess or (loss) of money noted at the end of each budget year since 1999 in the safety path fund.  I believe since 1999 there should be a surplus of funds currently available and earning interest.  I would like to know that figure.  That money and the vehicles/equipment purchased with safety path millage money should be used for safety path repairs in the future.
  • At this writing, I am NOT in favor of extending the safety path program.  I will attend and participate in the study session meeting.  There needs to be strong evidence that would change my mind.  That said, based on comments made by the Township leadership at various times of the year, I believe the majority of the members of the Board want to continue and/or expand the safety path program.  Is this what you want?  Please attend the meeting.
  • FYI:  In 2013...there is another Police/Fire millage expiring.   
  • FYI:  In 2013... the Senior Services millage is expiring.  This subject should also have a Study Session.