Dexter Township voters will soon answer the land preservation question


Dexter Township voters are faced with a question of land preservation on their November 8 ballots.

Before voters is the farmland and open space land preservation millage. It's a proposal that if approved would help permanently preserve farmland and open space throughout the township by providing funding for the voluntary purchase of conservation easements.

The ballot question reads: “Shall the Township of Dexter permanently preserve farmland, open space, wildlife habitat, scenic views, and protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers and streams, by funding the voluntary purchase of interests in land throughout the Township, and enable the Township to take advantage of matching funds, by increasing the authorized millage for ad valorem taxes for the Township of Dexter by 0.5 mills ($.50 per $1,000 of taxable value) for ten fiscal years 2022 through 2031, inclusive, In the first year the estimated revenue will by $220,000.”

To get a better idea about the proposal and what it means The Sun Times News (STN) reached out to Barry Lonik, a consultant for Dexter Township's Open Space and Land Preservation committee. He assists with program development and applying for state and federal grants. With his help, the township recently obtained State and federal awards to purchase a conservation easement on a property totaling nearly $500,000.

Lonik is also a 25-year Dexter Township resident.

In explaining the proposal and land preservation, Lonik said “Landowners are constantly contacted by developers seeking to turn their properties into subdivisions, gravel pits and solar farms.”

“Many do not want their land--often in the same family for generations--to be used that way,” he said. “This program would offer an option for those who want to see their land conserved and yet generate income from the value of their property.”

He said it's estimated that over 5,000 acres of farmland and natural areas remain in Dexter Township.

“This millage would help to conserve a good chunk of that,” he said.

In thinking about cost, Lonik said he often says, “What do you want to pay for, how much and for how long?”

He said conserving land costs a little, but can be matched with many other sources (Webster Township’s millage gets $5 from outside for every $1 of their own funds) and is way cheaper than paying to subsidize development while maintaining all the things residents like about Dexter Township (farms, food, scenic views, wildlife, groundwater recharge, water quality, carbon storage, etc.).

If approved, Lonik said the funds would be used to assist in the purchase of conservation easements (CEs) on farmland and natural areas in Dexter Township, matched with funds from federal, State, county and private sources.

“Conservation easements are permanent deed restrictions that permit farming, hunting and woodlot management but prohibits housing developments, gravel pits and clearcutting,” he explained. “Land with a conservation easement remains in private ownership and on the tax rolls. Its possible township funds could be used to assist in the purchase of land for preserves by other agencies like Washtenaw County Parks. The program would mirror those in Scio, Webster and Ann Arbor townships, which have been in operation for nearly 20 years and collectively conserved over 5,000 acres.”

How it would work is, landowners would apply to the Dexter Township program and be scored on systems established in township ordinance #37, Lonik said, and then matching funds would be sought and due diligence (survey, appraisal, environmental assessment for hazardous waste and legal review) would be conducted.

“The easement would be signed and recorded and run with the property forever,” he said.

However, before looking too far ahead, the voters of Dexter Township have a decision to make. At its core the question is asking voters to increase their taxes. STN asked Lonik about the costs to township taxpayers.

He used his own situation as an example.

“The taxable value of my property (1,900 square feet house on two acres) is about $90,000, so the millage would cost me about $45/year,” he said. “Compare that to the 8.5 mills levied to pay off debt for building new schools in Dexter (same for Chelsea) and it's a bargain to avoid future huge tax increases by preventing development.”

It's now in the hands of the voters, so get out and vote Dexter Township. Either yes or no, it's up to you.

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