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Rogers City unsure its band tax is legal

ROGERS CITY — Rogers City officials are questioning the legality of a property tax that’s been on the city’s books since 1945.

Taxpayers are currently paying 0.2 mills to fund the city band. That tax costs the owner of a $100,000 house about $10 a year and generates about $12,000 annually for the band to operate.

City Manager Joe Hefele explained to members of the City Council on Tuesday that the Michigan Legislature adopted a statute in 1923 allowing residents to adopt a millage supporting a municipal band.

The millage was overwhelmingly approved by the voters of Rogers Township in 1926, and was then levied by the township to support the band. The then-village of Rogers City, which was part of Rogers Township, voted “overwhelmingly,” according to Hefele, in 1945 to approve a charter to become the City of Rogers City.

When that happened, Hefele said, the the city took the band, and the millage to fund the band, with it.

Hefele said that makes sense, in theory, because, at that time, most of the population of Rogers Township lived within the city.

“The question becomes, because there wasn’t a second vote in ’45 for the city to take on the band, was that transfer legal, and can it continue?” he told council members.

Hefele said the issue came up when city officials were researching the city’s tax rates for a tax proposal that appeared on the November 2018 ballot.

Hefele said it’s City Attorney Mike Vogler’s opinion that the city should not levy the millage until officials receive a legal answer. Vogler wasn’t in attendance at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Hefele said Vogler recommended the city get an opinion from Miller Canfield, the law firm that acts as the city’s bond counsel. He said Miller Canfield indicated they would give the city a 20% discount on the firm’s hourly rate, not to exceed $2,000.

The council unanimously agreed to allow Hefele to sign a letter of engagement in the amount of up to $3,000 to get the Miller Canfield opinion.

In his report to the board, Hefele said the worst-case scenario would be that the 0.2 mills is not levied this year and the band uses $12,000 from its fund balance to operate. He said the band fund has $18,000, which is enough for the band to operate this year.

The best-case scenario would be for officials to receive an opinion that satisfies the city attorney and is legally acceptable. The city would then be able to levy the millage as usual.

Hefele said the city has until June 4 to let the county know whether they intend to levy the millage so it can be put on the tax bills.

“The biggest urgency at this point, we can get by without levying the millage because of what they got in their fund balance,” he said. “But I think it behooves us to get the opinion, so that, if there does need to be a ballot question, we can let band members know that because I would assume that would be who leads the charge to get a petition signed and to get it on the November ballot.”