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Village should not dissolve, committee says

Marie Havenga • Feb 21, 2017 at 10:00 AM

SPRING LAKE – A special committee formed to explore the pros and cons of disincorporating the Village of Spring Lake made a three-part recommendation to Village Council on Monday night.

Disincorporation work group chairman Tony Verplank, nephew of Village President Joyce Verplank Hatton, said the committee recommends that council put a charter amendment on the ballot that, if approved, would allow for a mechanism for disincorporation.

Hatton headed a petition drive in 2012 to disincorporate the village. At that time, a judge ruled that the Village Charter contained no mechanism for disincorporation — therefore, it could not be done.

Although the disincorporation work group recommends that an amendment be placed on the ballot, it stopped short of suggesting that the village disincorporate.

The committee’s second recommendation is that council authorize about $20,000 for public education on the pros and cons of disincorporation.

The third recommendation is for residents to vote “no” on disincorporation and the charter amendment.

After listening to public comment, both for and against disincorporation, council instructed village attorney Bob Sullivan to draft language for a charter amendment. Council will vote on the language in March and, if approved by a two-thirds vote of council and by the governor, the amendment question could appear on the August election ballot.

If voters approve the amendment to create a mechanism for disincorporation, council could then vote to put the question of dissolving the village on a future ballot. If the issue does make it that far, both village and Spring Lake Township residents would vote on dissolving the village and making it part of the township.

Verplank said the disincorporation work group unanimously felt dissolving the village is not the best move.

“The primary reason is lack of local control,” he said.

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According to Verplank, the village receives $267,000 for street funding, $289,000 for its downtown development authority and $520,000 in revenue sharing, and other various sources of income, including liquor licenses and cellphone tower rental.

“Not all of that would disappear, but that money would go to Spring Lake Township,” he said. “We would make up 18 percent of voters in the township. There's no guarantee money is going to come back in that proportion to the village to fund our village.”

Verplank said by dissolving the village, residents would also stand to lose village services, such as leaf pickup and snow plowing.

“The average homeowner pays $1.95 a day for all of our village services, which seems pretty reasonable to me,” he said.

Verplank also noted that 24/7 police service would disappear.

“Our committee felt that was a big deal,” he said. “Although some of these things could be reinitiated by special assessments, if we're bringing all these things back, what's to be gained by disincorporation?”

Verplank noted there is no right or wrong answer to the disincorporation question.

“We see this as a matter of personal opinion based on quality of life,” he said. “Our recommendation is to retain the status quo of village government.”

Many audience members applauded following Verplank's comments.

But several residents spoke in favor of disincorporating.

Bonnie Scarborough said she has relatives who live on acreage in the township by the Grand River who pay less in taxes than she does for her century-old home that is in need of repair.

“I have seen a lot of changes in the village that I'm not happy with,” Scarborough said, citing busy streets and careless snow plowing. “There are a lot of issues I'm not happy with and I'm paying for it. If we can save money by disincorporating the village, I'm all for it.”

Shannon McMaster, who served on the disincorporation work group, said he wants to see the village remain intact.

“The village has fantastic quality of service and good value,” McMaster said. “Losing the village means losing the thing I came here for.”

Resident Wally Obits said he would like more information.

“I would recommend we go ahead and change the charter,” he said. “It's too early to tell the nuts and bolts, the dollars and cents. When we go to vote, then we decide whether it's good or bad.”

Committee members plan to share more of those nuts and bolts and cost estimates with council at its March meeting.

Verplank said the issue is “very complex.”

Hatton said she wishes more people served on the committee who were pro-disincorporation.

“Not one of us has the information that this rather one-sided committee has,” the village president said. “I think they should broaden their group and bring in some people who spoke and said they were for disincorporation so that they have a broader group.”

Village Manager Chris Burns noted that the committee is a “grassroots group” formed by Verplank.

“They're an independent body,” she said. “They're not a village-appointed committee.”

Burns said Verplank allowed Hatton to appoint a pro-disincorporation attorney to the group, even though he was not a village resident.

“It was a courtesy to allow President Hatton to appoint Mr. McNeil,” Burns said.

Councilman Joel Tepaaste said there is much more to learn and explore.

“This is an outline we saw tonight,” Tepaaste said of the committee's presentation. “We would like to delve into it much more deeper.”

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