CALEDONIA — Residents met the Village of Caledonia’s proposal to merge its two storm sewer districts into one single entity with confusion and suspicion during a public hearing Monday night.
Of about 65 residents who attended the meeting at the East Side Community Center, 6156 Douglas Ave., 19 addressed the Village Board and village employees, largely with questions about how the new method of having a flat fee would affect the amount they pay.
Residents from the Root River Storm Sewer Utility District, where fees stand to increase under the system, were more outspoken against the plan than those in the Lake Michigan Storm Sewer Utility District, whose fees would generally decrease under the new system.
One resident, Bob Heffer, a 52-year-old Department of Natural Resources employee who lives in the Root River district, was concerned that money from his district would be spent more often for projects in the other district, despite everyone paying the same amount.
“You spend more money on the Michigan side than on the Root River side,” Heffer said during the hearing. “That’s what the people are upset about on the Root River side is that we’re going to end up paying a little bit more so that the Michigan side can pay a little bit less.”
That part of the proposal — to charge all single-family homes the same $65.25 regardless of property size or value — was the most confusing and controversial for residents. The proposed flat fee would generate a $1 million budget for the single stormwater utility district.
Currently, the money for both districts is raised through a tax levy-based system: 61 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in the Lake Michigan district or $61 for a $100,000 home, and 8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value in the Root River district or $8 for a $100,000 home.
Some attendees grew raucous and confrontational with drainage district engineer Tony Bunkelman when they believed that a $200,000 home example brought up would be double the $65.25 fee, and he asserted otherwise. At that point, Village Administrator Mark Janiuk loudly grabbed the attention of those in the hearing and came to Bunkelman’s defense.
“You’re missing the point here,” Janiuk called out. “That $65 charge is the same no matter what the house is valued at...there’s no doubling or tripling.”
Janiuk added that under the new system, the fee would be charged after services had been rendered, meaning that residents will not pay this fee or the current stormwater tax levy at all this year, and will not see the new fee until December 2014.
Some residents, including Melissa Warner, also of the Root River district, urged other attendees to see beyond who lives in what district and look toward an increasingly unified community.
“The other thing that distresses me is ‘I’m in this district, I’m in that district,’” she said. “We’re one village... I think we have enough divisional politics in this country, we don’t need to have a divisional village.”
The proposal will come to the Village Board, with the authority to implement the single-district plan, Oct. 21 for a first reading. However, the board cannot vote on the proposal until the meeting after the proposal is first read.