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Township officials indifferent on disincorporation

Marie Havenga • Jan 20, 2017 at 1:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — New Village President Joyce Hatton ran on a platform of disincorporating the village and making it part of Spring Lake Township, but township officials aren't exactly jumping on board.

Hatton believes it's “double taxation” for village residents to pay taxes to both the village and township.

Hatton's nephew, Tony Verplank, recently launched a special fact-finding committee made up of township and village residents and officials tasked with exploring the pros and cons of disincorporation. Members include Erick Johnson, Bari Johnson, Bill Meyers, Shannon McMaster, Ernie Petrus, Lou Draeger, Village Manager Chris Burns, former Village President Jim MacLachlan and Township Manager Gordon Gallagher.

“We have a lot of interest in trying to determine as much factual information about the subject as possible,” Gallagher said. “Of the communities who have considered it over the last 10 years, there have not been any who have chosen to disincorporate.

“The village and township have a great working relationship just the way it is,” he added. “The way we have been working together benefits residents and taxpayers of both municipalities.”

Although Hatton's attorney said township voters would have a say in the matter, Gallagher said that is still unclear and remains “an open legal question.”

Gallagher added that he has not been given any authority by the Township Board to spend township dollars on the matter. However, he said he would support whatever the residents of the community decide.

“But, from my opinion, I don't see anything to be gained from it,” Gallagher said. “I don't see any benefit to any of the residents or taxpayers of either community by changing the structure that is in place. There could be savings today if you reduced the services.”

Gallagher noted that the village offers leaf collection and higher levels of police protection, street lighting and snow plowing.

“People pay extra for that (in their tax bill),” he explained. “Some people choose to live in the village because of the higher level of services. If village residents want to do away with those services, they could do that right now.”

Hatton said services that village residents desire not offered by the township could be provided by a special assessment district.

“It is common sense that the million dollars that is collected every year by the village government is not needed for these specific services,” Hatton said. “It is common sense that you don't need to pay a village manager over $100,000 a year in salary and benefits to govern one-sixth of the township's population. No legal bills that may be incurred to amend the current charter to allow village voters to make the choice to disincorporate will match taxpayers' million dollars annually collected by our village treasurer to maintain the separate government.”

Hatton believes merging the municipalities would benefit both by dropping duplicate village and township jobs and services, and by becoming a more populated single community, which is “very important because state revenue sharing is based on population.”

Hatton is pushing for Village Council to approve a Village Charter amendment that would give residents the right to vote on the disincorporation issue. Currently, the charter has no means for the village to be dissolved. The decision would require a two-thirds majority vote by council, or residents could petition to put such a charter amendment on the ballot.

Township Supervisor John Nash said everyone needs to become educated before reaching any conclusions, and keep it based on facts and not emotions.

“If you look at the facts, the facts will say the millage the village pays the township is really probably not enough for the services the township provides the village,” he said. “The second thing, there hasn't been one effort to disincorporate in Michigan that has succeeded.”

Nash said that, from his viewpoint, village leaders need to cooperate with each other.

“Kind of like I told Chris (Burns) and Joyce (Hatton), it seems like the village is doing much better financially. Isn't that the goal?” the township supervisor said. “As far as I'm concerned, you two ought to be working together to get the village's tax bill down. The Township Board and I will pretty much stay out of it. It's a village issue.”

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