TUESDAY, Oct. 6 — When it comes to drain assessments, David Fisher is a two-time loser.
First, as a former Groesbeck resident, he helped pay for the Tollgate Drain project, led by Ingham County Drain Commissioner Patrick Lindemann, that created the wetlands on Lansing’s east side.
Then he moved near Frandor. And last month, he received notice of an assessment for Lindemann’s new, $34.8 million Montgomery Drain project: $6,700.
Fisher said the only official information he and his neighbors received from the city has come in the form of a tax assessment.
“I caught wind of this project a little while ago,” Fisher said, “but like my neighbors, I didn’t get any information from the city about how this would affect us until we got our tax assessments last week.”
Residents want to know why they are being charged so much for the project and if it can be appealed, Fisher said. Assessments are based on property size. Property owners in the affected area will pay much more than the citywide assessment all owners will pay.
“When they sent us our assessments, they were based on the size of our lots,” Fisher said.
“Everyone was a little gob-smacked when they got that bill and hadn’t heard anything about it before,” he said.
Residents are to meet with city officials at 6 p.m. today — the first time they will be able to speak directly with city officials, said Fisher.
“The Council finally said that they need to communicate with residents, but this came after the assessments already came out,” Fisher said, “This is going to be everybody’s first opportunity to engage with them, including for those of us who’ve spoken at council meetings and haven’t gotten a response.”
Residents want to know how they can appeal their portion of drain costs, he said.
“There’s a public hearing on the 12th, but if we want to appeal the assessment, we have to have it to the city in writing before the hearing is over,” Fisher said. “We have to write our appeal without even knowing what we have to appeal.
“We don’t have any sense of context for what the city is basically trying to sneak by us,” he said.
But the city’s public service director, Andy Kilpatrick, said it is difficult for residents to appeal the project.
“With the way drain law works, a property owner really cannot appeal the project because they don’t have legal standing,” Kilpatrick said. “Once the project has been approved by the drain board, it can only be stopped by the drain board.” He was referring to the Ingham County Drainage Board, which oversees the Office of Drain Commissioner. The drain commissioner, Patrick Lindemann, who has long advocated the Montgomery Drain project in order to end pollution of the Red Cedar River.
According to the City of Lansing, county drain projects where the city determines some cost should be assessed to individual properties must go through a five-step public improvement process.
The process involves the Public Service Department, the Assessor's Office, the Finance Treasurer's Office, the Mayor and City Council. Each step must be approved by City Council.
The drain project is in the fourth step of the approval process. After the cost of the project is allocated, letters are mailed to residents and a public hearing date is set.
Kilpatrick said the City of Lansing is responsible for 64 percent of the total project cost, or nearly $23.7 million.
“The City’s current plan for paying its apportionment is to pay approximately 50 percent with a citywide drain tax,” Kilpatrick said, “and the other 50 percent through assessment to the benefitted properties in the drainage district.”
The cost for individual properties depends on their size and runoff contribution.
According to Kilpatrick, residents can choose how and when they want to pay.
All properties owners have the option of paying off the entire amount,” Kilpatrick said, “or they can pay it off in installments on their property taxes over a period set by the council.”
Fisher said that period is up to 30 years, but a longer window of time could cost residents.
“They did give us a 30-year payment option, but at 3.2 percent interest that becomes much more than $6,700,” Fisher said. “That tax assessment comes directly off the equity of our property, so it’s up to us to determine how we want to handle it.”
Fisher said he has paid for a drainage project before, at a previous residence.
“When I bought my house in the Groesbeck neighborhood, they had just finished a stormwater drainage project,” Fisher said. “When I bought that house, the assessment there was still outstanding from the previous owner and had to be paid off.
“Having gone through this already, I know this assessment would have to be settled before any of us could sell our houses.”
Fisher said that he wants to find a better solution.
“We just want to get as many people at the meeting as we can,” Fisher said. “I don’t want people bringing torches and pitchforks, I want them to bring questions and concerns.
“And I want the city to provide technical information to us,” he said.
Kilpatrick said project information is posted on the city’s website, but questions regarding the project should be addressed to the Ingham County Drain Commissioner’s Office.
“The link to project information is on the City’s website,” Kilpatrick said, “and this link was included in the notice of public assessment mailing.”