2018-10-21 / News

Townships fail in LCEMS tax suit

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

ELBA TWP. — Lapeer County EMS (LCEMS) and Lapeer County’s 19-month fight with three townships over a vote to create a countywide ambulance tax is over, and the townships have lost.

“They slammed the door shut,” LCEMS Executive Director Russ Adams, told board members Thursday morning.

In November 2016 Lapeer County voters approved a proposal to levy one-mill of property tax to support ambulance service in the county through 2020. While the ballot proposal passed by 1,532 votes countywide, voters in Almont Township rejected it 2,377 to 881 and in Marathon Township 34 more voters said no than yes.

Almont and Marathon townships sued LCEMS and the County of Lapeer a year ago March claiming the ballot proposal was “void and unenforceable.” Deerfield Township joined the suit a short time later.

A three-judge appeals court panel ruled Monday (Oct. 16) that the township boards lacked standing to sue. It also upheld Lapeer County Chief Circuit Court Judge Nick Holowka’s ruling blocking an attempt by LCEMS to examine Medstar Ambulance’s financial records. The appeals court also upheld Holowka’s ruling that the interlocal agreement between the County and LCEMS did not violate the “stated ballot language.”

The court wrote, “It is undisputed that the Lapeer County EMS Authority existed before the ballot proposal was submitted to the voters. It is also undisputed that, after the voters approved the ballot proposal, to effectuate the ballot proposal Lapeer County entered into a contract with Lapeer County EMS Authority to provide countywide EMS services. Under the terms of the contract, the tax proceeds from the approved millage are used to fund the Lapeer County EMS Authority. This arrangement did not violate the terms of the ballot proposal.”

Almont Township Supervisor Paul Bowman was “disappointed” by the ruling.

However, he said he’s not sure what will happen next.

Bowman said Thursday he had not read a copy of the nine-page order yet. He added that since it’s unlikely an appeal could be heard by the state Supreme Court before 2020 when the current tax measure expires, it’s quite possible Almont and the other townships may focus on getting changes made to the millage renewal.

LCEMS Board member Tina Papineau wanted to know how much the suit cost. Adams said the agency had spent somewhere in the $80,000 to $100,000 range, though the final bill hasn’t arrived. He didn’t know how much the county spent.

“I wonder if the people in those townships (Almont, Deerfield and Marathon) realized they paid to sue and defend?” asked LCEMS board member Mavis Roy.

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