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Four Lakes Task Force News Flash

Information and progress for bringing back our lakes.

October 9, 2020

Special Assessment District

An In-depth Look at the Issues Impacting the Four Lakes Special Assessment District

This special edition of the Four Lakes Task Force News Flash is dedicated to the Special Assessment District. While still very early in the process, based on the interest, we are providing specific information as we have it now, so property owners can know the current thinking related to the assessments.

What is the role of a Special Assessment District?

The Four Lakes Special Assessment District is a special public body established by the 2019 Lake Level Order by Midland County Judge Stephen Carras on behalf of both Gladwin and Midland counties in May 2019.

The Four Lakes Special Assessment District consists of lakefront properties as well as backlot properties that have access to the lakes, the boundaries of which were confirmed by the 2019 Lake Level Order after numerous public meetings, and resolutions from the Gladwin and Midland County Boards of Commissioners.

The counties have determined that all costs associated with the maintenance of the legal levels for the four lakes should be financed by special assessments to the benefitted properties within the Special Assessment District. In other words, the Four Lakes Special District is the source of funding for the maintenance of the lakes. While there can be other sources, such as government, private and public funding, and perhaps hydropower to offset assessments, the Four Lakes Assessment District is considered the primary source of funding to maintain the lakes.

Who is in the Four Lakes Special Assessment District?

Properties that have access to the lakes through the shoreline, private roads or deeded access. The properties in the Special Assessment District – after public review, notifications and opportunity to appeal – were established in the May 2019 Court Order. 

Map of Special Assessment District

How is the authority to establish the lakes granted?

All four lakes (Sanford, Wixom, Smallwood and Secord) are “artificial lakes” created by the damming of the Tobacco and Tittabawassee rivers. The authority to “have lakes” is somewhat complicated and involves an understanding of over 100 years of historical information that led to the formation of the lakes and the relationship with the private dam owner.

In May 2019, the Midland Circuit Court entered an order (“2019 Lake Level Order”) establishing the legal levels for each of the lakes in accordance with Part 307, Inland Lake Levels, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 Pa 451, as amended.

Part 307 is the exclusive authority for a county or counties to make policy decisions to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the level of an inland lake.

Midland and Gladwin counties have directed that all costs associated with the maintenance of the lake levels be paid by special assessments. The 2019 Lake Level Order also established and confirmed the Four Lakes Special Assessment District.

The Four Lakes Special Assessment District is a special purpose public body, and the Four Lakes Task Force is the county delegated authority, acting on behalf of the Four Lakes Special Assessment District.

What authority regulates dam safety?

With respect to dam safety, if any of the lakes produce hydropower, then FERC has the authority to require the person who holds the license to address dam safety. If there is no FERC license, the State of Michigan regulates dam safety. In either case, FLTF as the county delegated authority and acting on behalf of the Four Lakes Special Assessment District has the authority to manage the lake levels.

How will the assessment be calculated and allocated?

The methodology for the allocation of assessments was being established before the dam failures and will be revisited to look at allocating the capital costs by dam restoration/repair by lake. Most properties are single residences on a parcel with less than 300 feet of lakeshore. Properties that are not on the lake directly, “backlots,” are likely to be assessed one quarter (1/4) of the amount of the single residence on 300 ft. of the lake. There are other factors including use (resident, commercial, agriculture), headwater or shore length.

We are updating the assessment methodology following the dam failures and will communicate it at the beginning of 2021.

Is FLTF still using the same factors (headwater, amount of frontage, adjoining properties, etc.) to determine what each parcel's assessment will be?

Likely yes. We are still working out the details of the assessment and have not yet determined the final factors or what impact they will have on the amount of assessment at this time.

What costs are included in assessments?

Costs are categorized in two ways and will be assessed as follows: operations costs and capital improvement costs. See the table for further explanation.

Operations Costs

Capital Improvement Costs

What does it pay for?

- Operations and management of the lakes during the transition to their normal levels

- Emergency repairs 

- Development of operational plans

Fixed, one-time expenses to make the dams operable (construction and repairs)

When will the assessment begin?

FLTF may establish a special assessment for operations by the end of 2021

- Payments in connection with capital improvements will not occur until we finalize engineering plans, obtain all permits, receive construction bids, and conduct the Special Assessment hearing

- By April, a refined cost and schedule will be determined by lake through the Feasibility Study

How much will the assessment be?

No more than $200-$300 for the average lakefront property owner within the Special Assessment District

See the Estimated Assessments section on our Special Assessment District webpage

How long will the assessment last?

Approximately 3 years

Financing over many years, likely 40

What about 2021 and beyond for the capital improvement component of the assessment?

  • While the overall project costs will be refined by April of 2021, the capital component of the assessments will not be set to occur until the projects and financing are determined. Timing will be better estimated after FLTF acquires the properties. It is unlikely that this assessment would occur without a determined scheduled of when a lake would come up.
  • These assessments will follow the same process as the Operations Assessment: with a new set of hearings, followed by county approval.

What about weeds?

Normally aquatic weed management is a responsibility of the Lake Improvement Boards or weed special assessment districts. FLTF will be working with these entities to determine the best path forward to manage weeds and young tree growth during this transition period.

Read about the latest guidance from EGLE on bottomland vegetation growth:

Show Me Bottomland FAQs

How will property owners’ input be heard?

  • FLTF, through a third party, will survey residents in January/February of 2021 about the assessment. We also will conduct public hearings in 2021 to get property owner input that will guide the Four Lakes Task Force and the counties in decision-making and approval of the assessment rolls. This survey will occur annually until the lake levels are back in place.
  • Before any assessment by the Four Lakes Special Assessment District, a computation of costs will be prepared to detail the anticipated costs associated with the maintenance of the legal levels. This will be followed by the “Day of Review” of the assessments.
  • Each property owner receiving an assessment will have the opportunity to be heard at that hearing. Following the hearing, FLTF will submit the assessment roll to the County Board of Commissioners for Gladwin and Midland counties. The County Board must then confirm the assessment roll. Property owners will have an opportunity to appeal their assessment following the confirmation of the assessment roll by the County Board.

Can we have a public vote on the Four Lakes Special Assessment District?

The short answer: No, there is no public vote in connection with the Four Lakes Special Assessment District. In accordance with Part 307, the Counties of Midland and Gladwin decided that all costs associated with the maintenance of the lake levels are to be defrayed by special assessments. To this end, and again, in accordance with Part 307, the Four Lakes Special Assessment District was legally established by Circuit Court order in May 2019. The process for making, levying and collecting special assessments will be similar to the process set forth in the Michigan Drain Code of 1956, 1956 PA 40, as amended. Each property owner will receive notice of their assessment, an opportunity to participate in a public “Day of Review” and object, and have a right to appeal the final assessment following the approval of the assessment rolls by each of the county board of commissioners.

That said, we understand that this is a significant decision for the property owners on the lakes and the counites. In early 2021, the FLTF (through a third party) will be undertaking a survey of residents about the potential assessments and the desire to restore their lakes. The survey and public meetings will take place prior to the formal special assessment process described above. In addition, we will also hold public meetings to obtain property owner input. It is recognized that restoring the lakes has to be affordable for the community and this will be a major factor in the decision on how we proceed.

What happens to the property assessment if I sell my property?

Generally, payment of a special assessment is between the seller and buyer of the property. Most often, special assessments are paid in full at the time of the sale (meaning the full amount is deducted from the purchase price). However, a seller and buyer may choose to structure the purchase agreement so the buyer assumes the special assessments. Property owners facing this situation are encouraged to consult an attorney regarding this issue.

Note: this is a clarification from previously-shared information.

More Information

Special Assessment District Webpage
2020 Recovery & Restoration Plan (pg. 14)
Four Lakes Task Force

233 Larkin Street, Midland, MI 48640

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