There are many ways that Township officials seek input from residents. Watertown Charter Township uses periodic surveys approximately every 10 years as one way to learn what’s on residents’ minds. In February and March of 2019, Township officials sought resident opinions about many topics through a survey similar to one last done in 2007.
We sent an invitation to participate in the online survey to every household in the township, offered paper copies upon request, and 11% of the adult population completed the survey. Thank you to those who took the time to share your thoughts with us through the survey!
Some things haven’t changed since 2007; as then, many respondents value the “rural” and “quiet” characteristics of the township. Other things, like views on taxes, have changed.
For complete survey results, see the 2019 Watertown Township Survey Results.
Here’s a small snapshot of what we heard from respondents:
- Nearly 90% believe the township is headed in the right direction.
- The top five concerns (from the choices given) are: taxes, roads, high speed cable/internet, non-motorized transportation, and fire and ambulance service.
- Participants were more interested in maintaining services than keeping taxes low. This is a complete reversal in attitude since 2007.
- Respondents (57%) said “no” to recreational marijuana sales in the township. We heard you and in July 2019, we approved an ordinance prohibiting recreational marijuana sales. That ordinance joined a previous one in April 2017 that prohibited medical marijuana dispensaries.
One of the many reasons for doing the survey was to gauge the appetite of residents for a potential millage to support fire/ambulance service, roads, and cable/internet services. For the first time, this year we had to take money from our rainy day fund to cover general operating expenses. The reasons for this shortfall are many and can be confusing, but can be put into three groups:
- Property tax revenue is just returning to the 2009 level. This means that the township’s income hasn’t increased in about 10 years, even though costs and inflation have increased year after year.
- Developers went bankrupt after bonded infrastructure was already in place that obligated the township to continue bond payments.
- Development all but stopped as a result of the recession.
Reduction in tax collection because of the State’s tax code
- The Headlee Amendment of 1978 was designed to keep property tax increases in check. It never considered that property taxes would decline or that a housing market crash would be possible. Headlee reduces millage based on growth from the previous year, but does not consider that values may have fallen drastically. This results in an unintended reduction in operating dollars for the township, while the costs for basic operating services like roads and emergency services continue to rise.
- The state revenue sharing formula changed, and the township now receives only constitutionally protected payments, a significant decrease in funding.
Phasing out of a grant to support fire services
- We received a grant to fill the gap left from decreased revenues from the recession and tax code (see above) to fund and train full-time firefighters. There is no continuing funding to support this level of service.
- The level of service is important.
- Volunteer and part-time firefighters are a thing of the past. The fire department continues to try and hire qualified volunteers, but they have been unable to keep them on staff. Qualified emergency service workers are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
~by Trustee Holly Madill, Late Fall 2019 Watertown Charter Township newsletter