Lake Villa to begin paying water debt, but not all at once

Lake Villa Manufactured Home Community is expected to connect to Oxford Township’s water system this week, which means it will have to start paying the debt service charge like every other user.

The only difference is Lake Villa, owned by the Bloomfield Hills-based Meritus Communities, LLC, won’t have to immediately pay for all 851 of its home sites, regardless of whether or not they’re occupied, thanks to an agreement approved in a 6-1 vote by the township board last week.

According to the schedule included in the agreement, Lake Villa will begin paying the debt service charge for 600 units as of Aug. 1. That’s an approximation of how many homes are currently occupied.

Edith Belen, who manages Lake Villa, said the exact number of occupied homes is currently 605 with an additional 40 units for sale.

Based on the agreement with the township, the park will pay debt service charges on an additional 51 units, for a total of 651, beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Another 100 units will be added to Lake Villa’s quarterly water bill on Jan. 1, 2019 and 100 more on Jan. 1, 2020, for a total of 851.

Belen said the goal is to have 851 units occupied by that time, but even if they’re not, the agreement with the township calls for Lake Villa to pay on the full number.

All township water customers are currently charged $52.50 per quarter (or $210 annually) per Residential Equivalent Unit (REU) to help pay off the $10.7 million in bonds the township issued through Oakland County in 2005.

Proceeds from those bonds funded improvements to the municipal water system, including the construction of a 1 million-gallon elevated storage tank and two treatment plants that remove naturally-occurring arsenic and iron from the groundwater.

Because manufactured homes count as 0.85 REU – as opposed to a stick-built single family home, which is assigned a value of 1 REU – Lake Villa will be charged $44.63 per quarter for its home sites to help pay off the bond debt.

Township Treasurer Joe Ferrari, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he understood the reason for not wanting to charge Lake Villa for all 851 homes sites right off the bat when only about 600 are occupied.

“Being a business, they’re going to spread (the cost) over the current users,” he said. “I don’t want our people in Lake Villa to pay for (something) that they’re not using.”

However, Ferrari voted against the agreement because he felt there should have been a caveat that if Lake Villa starts filling units and connecting them to the water system faster than indicated on the schedule, the park should have to pay based on whichever number is greater, the anticipated connections or the actual connections.

For example, “if they go gangbusters and get 851 done by Jan. 1, 2018,” said Ferrari, he wants them to pay on that number, not the 651 units listed in the agreement.

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn was very complimentary of the multitude of improvements Meritus Communities has made to the park since taking ownership last year.

“The new owners of Lake Villa have put a lot of money into that trailer park,” he said.

“I haven’t heard many complaints from the residents out there . . . They seem like they’re going to do a good job,” Dunn said.

“We’ve put over $1 million (into the park),” Belen told this reporter.

Meritus has installed all new signage, milled and resurfaced about 60 percent of the roads, remodeled the clubhouse and added a fitness center to it, resurfaced 64 driveways and built a playground and splashpad for the children, according to Belen.

“We’re getting ready to (resurface) probably another 15 percent (of the roads) this month,” she said.

Another 50 driveways will be resurfaced this month as well.

Meritus Communities has also removed 30 old homes from the park and brought in more than 100 new ones, according to Belen.

She said Meritus plans to spend an estimated $200,000 to install individual water meters on the 605 occupied units, plus the 40 homes that are for sale.

“That’s going to occur, I would say, in the next two months or so,” she said.

Although Lake Villa is just now hooking up to the township system, the municipality has been responsible for its water service since September 2006 when a previous owner donated the park’s four private wells to Oxford. These wells continued to meet all of Lake Villa’s water needs for the next 11 years.

A 7,505-foot water main extension from the Willow Lake subdivision, completed this year, is what’s allowing the park to connect to the township system, ending Lake Villa’s complete dependence on the wells.

The township spent $1.5 million on this project because Lake Villa’s aging well system was experiencing problems and no longer considered to be reliable. Officials feared a potential water crisis in the park if the wells failed.