Tax Increase of $160/yr Would Whallop Existing Customers

Board of Trustees Divided – Beliger is Swing Vote

Cliff Notes

from 3/26/19 Board of Trustees Meeting

by David Gordon


  • A clear majority of residents voiced opposition to the sewer plant expansion. A smaller number, including some merchants, said they’d support expansion if it would revitalize downtown.
  • No financial analysis has been done to confirm the $8M would help downtown or attract housing to the Whitmore Lake school district.
  • The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) said the treatment plant is well run; is not polluting and that a $5M holding tank is not needed.
  • It was revealed the plant has at least a 400,000 gal/day surplus capacity which could accommodate between 800 and 1,500 new rooftops.
  • Many residents said developers, not current customers, should pay for financing the sewer expansion.
  • Supervisor Marlene Chockley and Trustees Jacki Otto and Janet Chick have been pushing sewer expansion for two years. Clerk Kathy Manley, Treasurer Lenore Zelenock and Trustee Wayne Dockett are opposed. Trustee Tawn Beliger is the swing vote and is still undecided.
  • It was clear that the Board members pushing for expansion were ill prepared to answer the public’s concerns and questions. No decisions were reached nor was a timetable set to resolve this proposal for the township’s most expensive infrastructure project ever


2019 03 26 audience 2 644w540hOriginalDJGDeskewedMaryDevlin


The Rest of the Story


Nearly 50 residents showed up for the Board of Trustees March 26th meeting to discuss an $8M expansion plan of the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) and two sewer  “trunk lines”.

Most residents questioned the need for the expansion and insisted developers should pay.   A few residents, including some merchants, said they’d foot the bill if it would help revive downtown. 

The expansion calls for a $5M “holding tank” and $3M for two enlarged “trunk lines”.  It would add a “Sewer Tax Increase” of about $160/year for 20 years to the 2,500 \\

customers who now pay $360/year. Multi-unit residences, the nursing home and many businesses would pay much more.

No financial analysis has been done to prove the $8M would revive downtown or attract development even though Supervisor Marlene Chockley and Trustees Jacki Otto and Janet Chick have been lobbying for expansion since 2016.

It was revealed that Chockley had already enlisted bond counsel for borrowing the money and a postcard had been drafted to alert township taxpayers (a requirement created in 2008 by the Board that included four Northfield Neighbors).

Chockley started the meeting with a 13-minute presentation trying to show a “need” for the sewer expansion but was betrayed by her own graphics.

This graphic shows that the plant has a surplus capacity today of 400,000 gal/day, more than enough to handle any realistic growth.

WWTP Point of Decision Chockley 2019 3 25 640w303h


On average, the plant processes 700,000 gal/day. The MDEQ says it can handle 1.1M gal/day.   In other words, the sewer district could grow 60% without a plant expansion.

Chick insisted that the plant is polluting but the MDEQ has never issued a “Violations Notice”. Even on spring days when the WWTP is ”challenged” by heavy rains, Superintendent Dan Willis has said they handle it without polluting.  

“The MDEQ said our plant is running really good,” said Treasurer Lenore Zelenock. “If we were polluting, they’d send a ‘Violation Notice’. They haven’t,” adding that the MDEQ said a holding tank wasn’t needed.

Zelenock, Clerk Kathy Manley and Trustee Wayne Dockett are opposed to the sewer tax. They said the projects are unnecessary at this time and insisted that developers pay the tab.

Trustee Tawn Beliger is the swing vote and gave no indication of her position.

Resident Faith Wheeler said “This is another one of those ‘If We Build It They Will Come’” schemes, pointing to the oversized, overpriced Public Safety Building scandal and the new $12M Whitmore Lake High School that is well short of student capacity. “We have to think about the people we are putting this tax onto.”

Resident Kathy Johnson asked the Board to look at its own Master Plan (Page 35) that’s headed “Municipal Service Expansion Policies”. She said life might be simpler if the Board followed its own guidelines.

Those policies recommend:

  • "any expansion shall be bound by capital improvement needs…” The Capital Improvement Plan is still in discussion and a $595,000.00 Comprehensive Sewer Study won't be completed until late 2020.
  • "pass the costs of expansion on to those reaping the benefits of that expansion through Special Assessment Districts…and other similar mechanisms”. Not by charging existing customers.
  • "the Township should adopt a formal municipal service expansion procedure…” Not yet written or adopted.  

NorthfieldTwp MasterPlan DRAFT 021519 onsite 2019 03 26 p35 800w535h

Other unanswered questions:

  • A 2015 sewer “Capacity Report” said the system could add 800-1,500 more rooftops, but also said the number could be as low as 100.       Which number is meaningful?
  • Although the WWTP exceeds some “limits” during high peak flows, the MDEQ says those “blips” are minor and infrequent - about two days a year. Will the $8M eliminate those “blips” and can the township afford that level of treatment?

“It’s Not Rocket Science”

In other business, the Board spent the next two hours fighting about budget amendments, whether to pay membership dues and the future of the historic former firehouse at 75 Barker Road. Membership dues were postponed.

The Board voted 4/3 to try and sell the historic firehouse without a realtor; erect a “Sale by Owner” sign and possibly save the sales commission.

Beliger set the selling price at $330,000 even though a professional analysis put the value at $275,000. Chockley, Chick and Zelenock voted no. The timeframe is open ended because the Board is simultaneously negotiating a contract with a realtor.

Zelenock again criticized Chockley and Manager Steven Aynes for a lack of professionalism regarding the agenda and packet.   It has been a common refrain from numerous Board members the last two years.

“There was one page of information in the packet for an $8M spending proposal and then, on the day of the meeting, 43 more pages were added via email,” she said. “This is unacceptable. “

Chockley said:              “It’s a challenge. It’s tough. I do the best I can. I’m trying.”

Aynes said:                  “We’re trying. How do you want me to address this?”

Zelenock said:              “Providing proper materials is not rocket science.”

The meeting didn’t adjourn until 11 pm. (a near-record four hours).


How much will you spend to attract one more household 640w366h

How much will you spend to attract one more household?