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Posted: 02/13/13

Bruce officials work on
property lease agreement

Observer Staff Writer
      Bruce officials will formalize a former handshake agreement on farming township property in order to receive revenue from it.
       The Board of Trustees voted 4-1 to have Supervisor Richard Cory and Trustee Mark Falker work on a lease agreement with Ingleside Farms for farmable township property and bring it back to the board for approval.
       In the meantime, officials said they will wait for legal counsel to determine whether the property should be placed on the tax roll.
       Clerk Susan Brockmann was the dissenting vote during the Feb. 6 special meeting.
       The two parcels are approximately 140 acres of property located at the corner of 36 Mile Road and Hipp Road. It is currently cared for by Ingleside Farms, which donates money on a yearly basis.
       Though formerly stated as having 70 acres of farmable land, township officials re-calculated the actual amount to 80 acres.
       Connie Schapman, who helps take care of the land, said no formal lease has existed since it was a "gentleman's agreement," and that the farm currently donates $3,000 a year.
       She said the family has fertilized it, farmed it and kept trespassers away without asking for reimbursement, and wants the township to make a decision.
       "You've spent a lot of time on it, and I think you need to settle it one way or another," she said.
       Brockmann suggested the township find out the land's value through a bid, and if the board wished, it could select the current caretakers if they put in a bid.
       "This isn't political at all, it's doing the right thing for the township," Brockmann said.
       Falker said if put out to bid, the township risks someone coming in and depleting the land.
       "Because of the residual effect of fertilizer, it's hard for me to say `give it to someone else' because they've got an investment in it," he said.
       Trustee Paul Okoniewski agreed, saying the advantage to negotiating with Ingleside is that the township has someone it knows will take care of the land.
       "Here we've got somebody ready to use it," he said.
       He made a motion for Cory and Brockmann to speak with the owners, but Brockmann declined. Falker and Treasurer Deborah Obrecht volunteered to take her place.
       The board agreed to calculate $5,000 in revenue from the property for its 2013-14 budget. Cory said he would try to keep the actual revenue around that figure with a price of roughly $60 per acre.
       Resident Richard Tucker put it simply to township officials: If it isn't broke, don't fix it.
       "It'd be my request of the board that they sit down with the current operator and work out a number that's respectable to both the township and the current operator and leave it status quo," he said.
       Taxing problems
       Regardless of whether it's leased or not, officials must determine whether the land should be placed on the tax roll based on the use.
       Brockmann said if the property will be used in the future, such as for a park or new township hall, it could exempt the township from putting it on the tax roll.
       "If it's on the tax roll, and even (if we) get a contribution, we get nothing on it, it's a wash," Brockmann said.
       Obrecht said without a formal agreement, the township receives a donation as opposed to taking money for use of the property.
       "If we can get something from the attorney where it is truly exempt, then (the assessor) is willing to take it off the roll," she said.
       Resident Jim Tignanelli said if the township is going to receive revenue from the property it'll change the tax roll regardless of being a donation.
       "If for 30 years you haven't been paying taxes on it . . . that does sound political," he said. "It sounds to me like you're doing somebody a favor."

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