BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Local property owners who use septic tanks won't see a special assessment on their winter tax bills anytime soon, but the cost of pumping their tank may increase.
The Grand Traverse County Board of Public Works temporarily put to rest a proposed annual tax of about $25. The decision came after more than 400 people showed up to a public hearing on Oct. 16 at which time the tax was to be discussed.
BPW officials believe the assessment is needed to stop the financial drain of a plant that could lose $200,000 annually. But at a recent study session BPW members expressed no interest in immediately levying the tax.
"We talked about what happened at the public hearing and there was no effort to reconvene that public hearing anytime soon, if at all," said Jack Kelly, Elmwood Township supervisor and a BPW member. "It seems clearly off the table for this year."
BPW officials could move ahead with the septic tax for 2013 summer tax bills, but it's too late to add the proposed fee to this year's winter tax bills, said Glen Lile, East Bay Township supervisor and BPW member.
"It's done for this year, but I don't know about next year," Lile said. "We threw a lot of things on the table, and one of them is raising the rates instead."
The amount the BPW might raise septic tank pumping rates hasn't been determined. The current fee, already the highest in the state, is 12 cents per-gallon.
Lile contends the biggest problem with the proposed special assessment is that the public doesn't understand many of the issues — financial and other — that surround the plant.
He's been told the BPW should cut costs and file suit against those who built the plant. Those critics don't realize the county already received financial settlements tied to the plant's construction and oversight.
Studies showed the plant was overbuilt and continues to lose money every year, causes of concern for the Grand Traverse County townships of East Bay, Garfield, Acme, Peninsula, as well as Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, whose elected officials guaranteed the facility's financial health.
"I have people from my township who don't understand that East Bay Township is on the hook financially for 30.75 percent of any losses at the plant," Lile said. "When you are on the hook for it, it's a matter of what's easier, what's the lesser evil."
Representatives of the other nine townships in Grand Traverse County that didn't guarantee the plant filed suit in 13th Circuit Court to stop the special assessment.
BPW attorney Scott Howard said both sides agreed to put the suit on hold pending BPW officials' decisions.
"There's no sense of wasting time and money on something that's speculative at this point," Howard said.