What is a Special Assessment District?

By Tom Bauer

Some of us may have heard of a Special Assessment District (SAD) or may be more familiar with it than others but the one sure thing is that we are going to hear the term more and more often in the coming months.  Some communities have adopted the expression NBD, Neighborhood Benefits District but they are the same.

This June, with the effort of a city wide coalition Detroit’s City Council amended Chapter18 of the City Code of Ordinance creating the Special Assessment District.  I had the pleasure of representing the UDCA in this coalition and speaking to our city council on our behalf.  The amendment is titled “Special Assessments for Snow Removal, Mosquito Abatement and Security Services” and that is just the title!  The ordinance is 23 pages long and I and a few other members of the UDCA are studying it and developing a knowledge base which will determine if this is good for our neighborhood and if so how to implement it.  An example would be to increase our security to 24 hours a day and provide more snow plowing.  Wouldn’t that be great!

The function of a SAD is to provide a means of neighborhood enhancement through increased security, snow removal and mosquito abatement or any of the three.  By majority rule we would impose an additional assessment on ourselves, collected with your property taxes and then returned to our neighborhood, which we would then spend at our will on the services above or any one or two of them.  The dollar amount and who in our neighborhood would administer it, e.g. UDCA board, would be determined before it is implemented and our entire plan would have to be developed and approved by the city.

Right now there are many questions people have asked.  The foremost of them is how hard the city is going to make it for us to get our money back.  Not more than two months from collection the city will forward the money.  I have also been asked what effect this would have on our existing organizations.  The intention is not to eliminate our two patrols but to enhance them, especially the Subscriber Patrol (www.universitydistrictpatrol.org) which provides our current paid security patrol.  The radio patrol would hardly be affected at all and would continue to operate in the amazing way they always have.  The UDCA would spend less money on snow plowing making more funds available for projects like beautification or traffic calming.   With 1,200 homes in the district, about 40% paying UDCA dues and less than 20% paying subscriber patrol dues we are not doing all we can to maintain the best quality of life for ourselves and the neighborhood.  Imagine the changes we could make with 100% participation in security alone!

Some things we know are that the funds would be collected universally throughout the defined neighborhood and can only be used for security, snow and mosquitos.  We are able to determine the amount of assessment and our chosen neighborhood organization would be responsible for managing the funds and accountability of the funds.  The city has several requirements which are designed to control the funds and how they are used.  The University District Community Association has established a committee to study the ordinance, develop a plan and determine if this is a good choice for us and if so implement the establishment of a SAD.  We currently have six members including Radio Patrol and Subscriber Patrol.  If you would like to learn more or are interested in helping the committee feel free to contact me personally or do a google search on Detroit Special Assessment District.