Township Board Borrows $800,000 for Sewer Extension

Manager Dismisses Resident’s Concerns as “Misconceptions”

by David Gordon

The Board of Trustees on Tuesday night, despite objections from many residents, voted unanimously to borrow $800,000 and extend sewers to a handful of businesses on Whitmore Lake Road, south of N. Territorial.  

More than 75 residents, the biggest turnout in recent memory, crowded the still-unfinished and unrented second floor of Township Hall seeking answers to a confusing yellow postcard that included language such as “ad valorem” and “appurtenances”.  

Audience members said their taxes were already too high and worried that they would have to pay for the new $800G debt if the businesses failed to pay their sewer bills.

Residents opposed to “Farmland-into-Subdivisions” expressed concern that the sewer extension would attract unwanted residential development pressure and help a current land speculator, Biltmore Development LLC, which has proposed 1,475 rooftops in the area. 

Other speakers criticized the Boards decision to add yet another Special Assessment Sewer District (SAD) to an already overburdened sewage treatment plant that the Board says needs at least a $3M upgrade without any more growth at all.  This new SAD would eat into the 100-200 available hookups. 

The Board tasked Township Manager Howard Fink with running the entire discussion of the new $800G debt, and he began by dismissing residents concerns as “misinformation and misconception”.    

Neither the Board nor Fink, during the 2 1/2 hour discussion, explained what benefit the township as a whole would get from loaning $800,000 to a few private business owners. 

Fink said the sewage treatment plant is only operating at 60% of capacity, but then agreed that during “heavy rain events”, the plant is close to overflowing and a $3 million retention basin should be built immediately to handle the problem.  

This spring, the Board paid more than $25,000 for a report on the township sewer system from their engineering firm, Tetra Tech.  They were told the plant could handle only another 100-200 residential hookups without large, expensive upgrades.  

At present, the township has made SAD commitments for 2,738 residential hookups.  It would cost about $25-30M in sewer expansion to handle that obligation.

Fink said it was unlikely that there would be negative tax consequences if the the Whitmore Lake Road businesses failed to pay their sewer bills, but then admitted that the township general fund (your tax bill) would have to make up any unpaid bond obligations. He said any unpaid sewer assessments would become liens against the property.

He said because the sewer extension is only a 3” diameter line, it could only handle, at most, 266 residential hookups, and that Biltmore wasnt a consideration.  But the 266 number could  double to more than 500 if the 3” line is modified from “low pressure” to “high pressure”, according to professionals in the field.  

Fink said the SAD was discussed with Biltmore, but claimed the idea of hooking the sewer extension into Biltmore’s 1,475 proposed development was quickly dismisses as unfeasible.

Biltmore has extended its options just south of the SAD another six months.


Analysis - Why So Much Distrust?


A common undercurrent in the questions from residents was a distrust of the Board. Why?

Based on the questions posed Tuesday night, the #1 reason is because of the high taxes in Northfield Township, relative to our neighbors. Our Board has accumulated too much debt over the years. The outrageous cost overruns on Township Hall were done with such minimal notice (the absolute legal minimum), that it smacked of collusion. The $3.8M voter-approved bond for the building ballooned to over $8M.

Then, 18 month ago, Biltmore Development LLC approached the township with the idea of transforming the entire southwest section of the township from rural to suburban, in obvious violation of the Master Plan that was only adopted in 2012.

Instead of defending our Master Plan and telling Biltmore that our growth area is focused on the Whitmore Lake area with existing infrastructure, the Board and the Planning Commission betrayed the public trust and starting doing Biltmore’s bidding.

They dismissed as “flawed” their Master Plan they had just adopted (which cost $35,000 to review in 2012), and ignored the resident’s wishes as expressed in both the 1996 and 2010 township-wide surveys. And they ignored the 2004 referendum which resoundingly defeated a similar request from the developer Grand/Sakwa.

Although the Planning Commission recently sent a letter telling Biltmore to abide by the current Master Plan, the PC is still actively working to re-write the Master Plan and is spending tens of thousand$ on the effort.

Our local government has some work to do in order to restore public trust.

That could start by members of the Board and Commission speaking up loudly and repeatedly in favor of our Master Plan and the two valid surveys which show the #1 priority in our township is preservation of natural features. Commercial growth is priority #2, and turning farmland into subdivisions is hugely unpopular. And follow up their talk with action.

What Can be Done?

Stop wasting taxpayer dollars. Kill the new survey which will cost about $17,000 before it’s done, not including all the money and time spent on it by township staff, elected and appointed officials. Youve got the answers you need right now. If you’re going to ignore the results from the 1996 and 2010 surveys, why bother doing another? Don’t waste time & money on the Master Plan rewrite either. That’s not due until 2017.

Kill the $65,000 project to make the Board a prettier meeting space in Township Hall. Usually there are more officials than residents at meetings, and the high school is available for bigger turnouts.

The Board should curb it’s myopic concentration on growth and focus more on farmland and open space preservation, which has been repeatedly shown to be the #1 priority of residents. Create a Land Preservation Committee like many neighboring communities have done.

Rein in members of the Planning Commission who are wasting time and taxpayer dollars pursuing items not identified as important by the Board - such as By-Laws. The Board needs to keep the PC on task, figuring ways to make it easier for businesses to locate in downtown and to reinvigorate the area around the nicest lake in the county.

Direct our new Township Manager to focus on improving the downtown Whitmore Lake area and stop wasting time and effort with developers who have no respect for our Master Plan. And the Board could hire a real estate professional to rent the second floor, which is vastly underutilized and costing the taxpayers $275,000/year.

Residents need to stay involved, even though it may be difficult. One great way to keep informed is to visit You will find out information unavailable on the township website and not reported in local papers.  Busy?  Of course you are.  So our LiveMeetingMinutes and LiveAgendas make it easy to watch just the Agenda items you want to watch.

Although the Board still borrowed $800,000 the night of Dec. 8, the large turnout is sure to have an impact on their thinking. Now they know what transparency looks like - large numbers of residents will be involved if the township reaches out effectively.

Residents need to keep the pressure on our public officials. You may not be able to have much of an impact in Lansing or Washington, D.C., but right here, at home, you rule!

Thanks for taking the time and being involved.


LiveMeetingMinutes for the March 4, 2015 PC meeting. The implication of the SAD was revealed in this meeting.

LiveMeetingMinutes for the 11/11/2014 Joint Session - the first Sewer Capacity Report


  • Busy? LiveMeetingMinutes make it easy to watch just the parts of the 12-8-2015 meeting you want to watch. Click here.
  • Click here to view or download tonight's Closed Session (Another secret Real Estate deal discussion) Agenda
  • Click here to view or download the Meeting Agenda
  • Click here to view or download the Meeting Packet
  • Click here to view or download the Manager's Report and 11-24-2015 Meeting Minutes (draft copy)
  • Click here to watch the meeting archived on Livestream (Livestream dropped out once, 4-5 minutes were lost.  Youtube has the complete video)
  • Click here to view or download the Public Hearing Notice: Intent to Bond for WLSAD
  • Click here to view or download the official meeting minutes (draft copy)