County Board OKs Sylvan Twp. Contract

At its July 11, 2012 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners authorized a contract with Sylvan Township related to debt repayment on water and sewer bonds. It’s another attempt to establish an arrangement under which Sylvan Township will repay the county for covering bond payments – contingent on Sylvan Township voters approving a millage.

In May of 2012, the county had picked up a $175,000 interest payment that the township couldn’t afford to make, related to $12.5 million in bonds that were issued 11 years ago – and backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to build a water and wastewater treatment plant in the township. The treatment plant in Sylvan Township that was intended for future development. Under a previous contract with the county, the township was obligated to make the bond payments. [.pdf of June 20, 2001 county board resolution authorizing the bonds] The township expected that connection fees from developers would cover those payments, but the development never materialized and the township has been struggling to make payments.

Township officials put a millage proposal on the November 2011 ballot to levy a 4.75 mill, 20-year tax that would fund the bond payments. But Sylvan Township residents rejected the millage by a vote of 475 to 328. As soon as the millage failed, it became clear that Sylvan Township – located west of Ann Arbor, near Chelsea – would not be able to make its payment in May of 2012. Because the county had backed the bonds with its full faith and credit, it is ultimately responsible for making the payments, even if it isn’t reimbursed for those payments by the township.  The county has an interest in making the bond payments to avoid having its AA+ bond rating negatively affected.

Even if the millage had passed, proceeds alone would not have been sufficient to cover the entire cost of the bond payments, however – forcing the county to tap its capital reserves as well. The millage proceeds were also intended to repay the county to cover any amount used from the county’s capital reserves, as well as interest. The proceeds would also have been used to repay the county treasurer’s office, which advanced about $1.2 million to the township in 2007 and 2008 related to this project.

At their Oct. 19, 2011 meeting, county commissioners gave final approval to a contract with Sylvan Township related to the township’s bond repayment schedule. However, the contract was contingent on voters passing the 4.75 mill tax, so the contract was nullified in the wake of the November 2011 vote. A staff memo accompanying the October 2011 contract resolution indicated that if the millage failed, the county could file suit against the township for breach of contract in failing to meet its debt repayment obligation. Such legal action could result in a court-ordered assessment on township residents. According to a staff memo for the July 11 resolution, the county is still pursuing “legal remedies” to the situation, but hopes to find other ways to resolve the issue.

Currently $9.7 million in principal is owed, plus interest – another $175,000 in November and two payments totaling $350,000 in 2013 – and the $1.2 million that was advanced by the county treasurer. In total, $11.425 million is owed.

The contract authorized by the board on July 11 is nearly identical to the one it approved in October of 2011. It’s contingent on township voters approving a 4.4 mill tax for 20 years that will be on the Aug. 7 ballot. The county will use its capital reserves to make the bond debt payments, and the township will repay the county with proceeds from the millage. The township’s repayments will continue for seven years past the debt repayment schedule, to cover interest as well as the repayment of $1.2 million advanced by the county treasurer.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]