If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em out
The meeting which began as an opportunity for customers of the Walloon Lake Water System (WLWS) to learn details of a settlement regarding system owner Dennis Lee Hass’ recently dismissed case ended with a discussion over the possibility of buying his water system.
“Hopefully the citizens will get together and try to purchase it,” said Walloon Lake resident Sue Lyons, following the Tuesday Sept. 24 settlement presentation given by Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney Allen Telgenhof. “The figure they’re handing out right now is $1.3 million.”
Some water system customers have been unhappy with Hass’ alleged practices—which court documents reveal ranged in allegation from forcing new customers to pay for bills owed by previous homeowners, placing liens upon customers’ properties for fees owed by prior property owners, threatening to shut off water supply to customers for reasons other than non-payment of moneys legally owed, and requiring customers to purchase replacement parts directly through Hass.
Telgenhof explained to the several dozen attendees of the Sept. 24 meeting that Hass agreed, in writing, not to commit any of those alleged actions in the future in an assurance of discontinuation.
“(T)he criminal case was dismissed without prejudice,” stated Telgenhof in a Sept. 28 e-mail to the Boyne City Gazette. “The assurance of discontinuance—the civil resolution—was signed by Mr. Hass, his attorney and myself. It has not been filed yet with Ingham County Circuit Court.”
The press was barred from the Sept. 24 meeting by Telgenhof, who cited Public Act 87.
In a Sept. 24 e-mail, Telgenhof barred anyone not involved with the case from attending by stating the following:
“I have gotten a few calls about the meeting tonight on the Hass case. Though it is at the township hall, it is not a public meeting. Under the Crime Victims Rights Act, the victims have a right to privacy so I can’t allow media or other non-victims to attend. Obviously folks can talk to you about it afterward if they wish. I hope you understand.”
Despite claiming the meeting was not open to the public, at least five people who had nothing to do with the case entered the meeting but were not ejected.
When asked what he hoped to learn at the meeting, Walloon Lake Junction Inn owner Al Reeves said, “Find out what went wrong with the prosecutor’s decision. He (Hass) was up on 20-year felony charges—and a little bit of money gets him off.”
Reeves was not the only customer concerned with the settlement.
“I think we got taken advantage of again,” said Walloon Lake resident Bob Vratanina as he headed into the meeting. “Fifteen years ago we had an administrative law judge up here over the same types of issues and the law judge goes, ‘Well, we’re not going to punish past transgressions but from this point in time on, you’re not going to operate in a never-never-land.’ And now they do something that’s actually a criminal charge, at least filed, and it gets plea-bargained—he skates again.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater (R-District 1) was asked to attend the meeting by some of the water system’s customers who reside in his district.
“I think there was consensus that they (WLWS customers) wished the prosecutor had gone ahead with a jury trial,” said Lasater, following the meeting.
Whether Hass will sell the WLWS to his customers remains to be seen. However, at least 50 percent of the residences on the water system must sign a petition in favor of the proposed deal before it can go any further.
“We the undersigned, all users of the Walloon Lake Water System, Inc. and residents of Melrose Township, Charlevoix County, urge the Melrose Township Board to pursue, as soon as possible, the purchasing and operation of the Walloon Lake Water System from Mr. Dennis Hass for an amount not to exceed $1.3 million dollars,” the petition language states.
Those who wish to sign the petition are urged to e-mail the concerned citizens group handling the details at email@example.com.
According to Bunny Marquardt, a WLWS customer since 1978, the citizens group is hoping to have all its petitions turned in to Melrose Township, which could facilitate the deal, within the next few weeks.
Melrose Township hall and its other facilities are customers of the WLWS.
If the deal were to go through, Melrose Township could end up owning and operating the water system, though water system users would finance the purchase through user fees.
WLWS customers are also looking into the possibility of governmental grant moneys to help fund the purchase.
“All we know is the price at this time,” said Marquardt. “We don’t know the terms.”
Neither Hass nor Melrose Township Supervisor Vern Goodwin returned phone calls by press time.
Following is a letter detailing the proposed water system sale to Walloon Lake Water System customers:
To all property owners and users of the Walloon Lake Water System
By signing the attached or enclosed petition you are requesting the Melrose Township Board to actively pursue the purchasing and operation of Mr. Dennis Hass’s Walloon Lake Water System, Inc. The negotiated price is $1 .3 million dollars as of 9/24/2013.
Funding for this purchase will most likely come from user fees and will pay back the debt to Mr. Hass over a specified period of time.
Time is of an essence because partial funding from the state might be available at a lower interest rate if applied for before December 1, 2013.
Over 50% of the water system users need to sign the petition before the Melrose Township Board can move forward with the purchase of the system.
Melrose Township will ultimately own and operate the system.
The current rate structure will be altered to be more fair and just but rates will not go down!
Township resident’s input will be very important in these decisions.
The township clerk will verify all signatures and then Public Hearings will be held.
The Melrose Township board is not taking this task lightly and is relying on the petition by citizens of the Walloon Lake Water System to approve the project in order for the township to move forward and accomplish the task.
The goal is to provide a significant benefit to those users of the water system so that they can receive reliable and safe water service at a reasonable and predictable price.