BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — An overflow crowd of about 400 people accomplished what a lawsuit could not: a temporary halt to a proposed special assessment on properties with septic tanks.
Residents filled the Garfield Township meeting room Tuesday night, flowing into the second floor hallway, down the stairs, around the lobby and out the door to the parking lot.
Some residents said they attended the hearing just to get information, but most were there to protest the tax assessment.
And many were irate.
"They are trying to rip us off for something they shouldn't have gotten us involved with in the first place," said Ron Kullgren of Blair Township.
A lawsuit filed Monday by nine townships against the Grand Traverse County Board of Public Works failed to stop Tuesday's public hearing from proceeding, but the size of the crowd in a room meant for 200 forced the BPW to postpone it.
The hearing is the first step toward levying an assessment that would range from $19 to $31 per year over the next 20 years on parcels with septic tanks. The assessment would help cover the cost to maintain and operate the county septage treatment plant, which will lose an estimated $200,000 or more a year without it.
The postponement could prevent the BPW from meeting its tight timeline to put the assessment on winter tax bills, forcing it to wait until 2013.
"Rescheduling was the right thing, the only thing we could do," said Wayne Kladder, Acme Township supervisor and a member of the BPW. "These people here to speak have a right to hear what others say as well as speak themselves."
The BPW also canceled its informational meetings scheduled for this week until it decides what to do.
"We have to regroup and consider the next step," said Jack Kelly, Elmwood Township supervisor and BPW member.
The board did not set a date to reconvene the hearing.
Gary Cox of East Bay Township said officials say the tax will be an average of $25, but once approved he believes it will soon hit $35 and keep rising.
"They won't keep it the same, it will keep going up," Cox said. "Why should we pay more."
The BPW does propose to drop the per-gallon charge from 12 cents a gallon to 6 cents once the special assessment goes into effect, but that only saves the average homeowner if they pump twice every five years.
Most pump less often.
"I don't want the government telling me how to take care of my septic system," said Gene Ballew of East Bay Township. "We have a choice to make on our own, it's our right, and we don't need to be paying more taxes."