Amicus Brief

City of South Haven v Van Buren County Commissioners and Van Buren County Road Commissioners

Case Year: 2007
Case Forum: Michigan Supreme Court
Keywords: millage, roads, elections
Amicus Counsel:

John H. Bauckham (P10544) | Bauckman, Sparks, Lohrstorfer, Thall, & Seeber, P.C. | 458 West South Street | Kalamazoo, MI 49007-4621

CoAmicus Parties:

MML joined the MTA brief


The Van Buren County Treasurer’s disbursement to the Van Buren County Road Commission of funds derived from the county road millage ballots covering a 28 year levy and collection period throughout the county for the specific purpose of improvement of county primary roads and county local roads, was a valid disbursement and was properly utilized
exclusively for the maintenance, repair and reconstruction of said county roads for the following reasons:
1. The purpose of the 28 year millage levy complied with MCL 224.20b(1) as being designated for specific county highway, road and street purposes, as distinguished from city street purposes, was accepted by the City of South Haven and its officials and electors during such period and required no separate agreement for validation.
2. Any agreement between the cities, villages and county road commission for such distribution and use exclusively for county roads, if such an agreement is determined to be necessary, was ratified, confirmed and established by this acknowledged distribution and use for 28 years without objection from any cities or villages and with its continued renewal by the electoral votes throughout all municipal units of the county.
3. By the City of South Haven’s acceptance without protest, and with knowledge of the disbursement and use of these road millage funds for exclusive county road purposes, and with the City’s continued participation in this millage renewal, the City is
estopped from now demanding a portion of such millage funds which by its 28 year latches has encouraged the county to expend these funds on its county roads.


At issue in this case is whether defendants violated MCL 224.20b by presenting and securing voter approval of a road millage proposal and, if so, what remedy is available. We affirm the Court of Appeals decision that the millage proposal in this case violated the allocation provisions of MCL 224.20b, but
reverse the Court of Appeals order remanding the case because, under the facts presented, plaintiff is not entitled to any of the remedies it seeks.

MSC requested LDF amicus brief? Yes

The statute at issue in this case is MCL 224.20b,1 which permits county boards of commissioners to propose tax levies, also known as millage proposals, for roads and bridges, but requires the proceeds of such a levy to be distributed to cities and villages for their roads, as well as to the county, according to a specific formula unless the governing boards of the cities and villages agree with the county to a different distribution. The statute also expressly states that proposals must conform to this distribution requirement and unless they do, they are not properly before the voters. Despite this fund distribution requirement, the voters of Van Buren County in 2003 were presented with and approved a road millage that had no provision for distributing funds to cities and villages. It simply gave one mill for five years to the Van Buren County Road Commission to repair and reconstruct county roads, with no mention of city or village roads. No city or village objected even though the statutory requirements in MCL 224.20b had not been followed. Moreover, going back to 1978, six other millages with the same flaw—no distribution provision—had been approved in six separate elections, and the funds derived had also been used exclusively by the Van Buren County Road Commission for the purpose of maintaining and repairing primary county roads and local county roads. Because plaintiff city of South Haven had no county roads within its municipal limits, it did not receive any of the funds from the six millages for road building and repair.

Case Number: 2006-16
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