Livingston County officials have rejected establishing a tax district in Hartland Township, would could effectively kill development plans for an Emagine movie theater.

The county’s Board of Commissioners voted 5-4 last night to reject Hartland Township’s decision to establish a Commercial Rehabilitation District. The township had sought to establish the district so a proposed Emagine movie theater planned for development in said district would be eligible for tax abatement over a seven-year period.

Emagine Entertainment officials and developers have previously said the project, with an estimated $15 million budget, would not be justified without the seven-year abatement worth $500,000. At the county’s meeting, attended by roughly 60 citizens, Emagine Entertainment CEO Paul Glantz said if the district were denied, his best idea moving forward would be to pursue another community for the project. Following the meeting and board’s decision, he declined to comment.

Township Manager James Wickman felt the project’s positives outweighed any negatives, and says he's still trying to make sense of what the good reason is for rejecting the district. Hartland Township’s decision to establish the district did not receive county support at a Health and Human Services Committee meeting last week. Their support was not needed however for the district to be established. The only thing stopping the township and theater was denial of the district from the county.

Kate Lawrence, one of the commissioners to vote against rejecting the district, brought up tax revenue generated by the property. Lawrence noted that as the parcel sits vacant, it currently nets the county $1,300 annually. If abated, the property would collect over $6,000 each year for the duration of the time the abatement is in place. After that, it would garner $17,000 per year in taxes. She also discussed her belief in local governmental control by stating, “I do not believe this board should be telling Hartland Township what’s good for them.”

Commissioner Don Parker says he respects local units of government, but says the county’s role is not proprietary or a loophole. He feels Livingston County already provides a friendly business environment. Commissioners Dave Domas, William Green, Doug Helzerman, and Bob Bezotte also voted to reject the district. Commissioners Carol Griffith, Dennis Dolan, and Gary Childs joined Lawrence in her vote against the rejection.

Township Supervisor Bill Fountain has stated the municipality could possibly take a different approach in the future, though was surprised the district was an issue at the county level at all. (DK)