by Jim Boyle
Hassan Township residents have spoken and they have opted for a zero levy, as they brace for their dissolution and re-emergence as residents of the city of Rogers.
A divided bunch numbering more than 250 crammed into the Hassan Town Hall garage this past Tuesday. Those who didn’t fit inside the garage peered in while standing on the apron of the maintenance building.
The final vote was 129 in favor of the zero levy to 125 votes for a 95 percent levy (95 percent of the last year’s levy).
The meeting got heated at times as efforts to explain the “recommended” option of a 95 percent levy collided with one presented as more lucrative of the two options and one hailed as a “dose” of fiscal responsibility.
“It’s a chance to put money in your pocket rather than give it to Rogers,” said Bob Ivey, who offered the resolution seeking the zero levy.
Hassan Township resident Paul LeClair cautioned that the zero levy option may feel good now, but the savings will be long gone after Hassan and Rogers are merged.
The zero levy option was hammered out in tense negotiations between Hassan Township officials and officials for the city of Rogers.
Hassan officials were able to win some concessions, but not enough to win the hearts of all five current Hassan Township board members.
Rogers and Hassan agreed to the following under the 95 percent levy option:
•A gradual four-year tax increase from Hassan residents to avoid getting hit all at one time with Rogers’ higher tax rates.
•Moving the merger date from Jan. 1, 2012, to July 1, 2012, to give Hassan residents representation of their interests in 2012 before the next election. That time frame would also allow Hassan residents to file for any Rogers elected office.
•Allowing Hassan Town Board supervisors to sit in on Rogers City Council meetings in 2012 from July through September as an advisory body on any Hassan-related agenda items. It would be in a non-voting capacity.
•Retaining both Hassan employees through 2012.
“They (Rogers) didn’t give these things out of the goodness of their heart,” said Hassan Township Board Member Dan Hunt.
Those agreements, however, are now null and void.
With Tuesday night’s vote Hassan Township is scheduled to dissolve into a final merger with Rogers on Jan. 1, 2012.
The zero levy has been likened to a tax rebate.
Since 2007 Hassan’s levy has remained flat. Even years where town supervisors attempted to raise the levy, residents prevailed in keeping it exactly the same as the previous year.
In setting a 2012 levy to zero or near zero, residents in Hassan will likely see a 20 percent reduction in their tax bill, according to Hassan Town Administrator Bill Craig.
Hassan residents with mortgages would receive refund checks from their lenders, as escrows would be over-funded for the required property tax payments in 2012.
The significance of the vote is that Rogers will not have the funds it will need to pay for services to Hassan residents. It will have to decide how to handle the shortfall.
Services, like snow removal, will get done, but there’s no guarantee it will be quickly, Craig said.
“It’s a bad idea to kick a hole in the boat if you’re going to be in the boat,” said Craig, who came out of retirement to lead Hassan Township and will be done as Hassan’s administrator by the end of this year. Craig said he was hopeful residents would have passed the 95 percent levy, but wouldn’t offer any predictions on what the sentiment was heading into the meeting. He’s letting the vote totals stand.
“I hope the best for everyone, and I hope they find a way to work together,” he said. “I hope this (decision) isn’t a sign of things to come.”