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Debating disincorporation

Marie Havenga • Jun 19, 2017 at 10:00 AM

SPRING LAKE – Spring Lake Village and Township residents have the opportunity to learn more about potential disincorporation during community engagement sessions scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today (Monday) and 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Spring Lake District Library.

In the meantime, the Tribune contacted two strong voices on opposing sides of the issue – Village President Joyce Hatton, a long-time proponent of dissolving village government and making it part of Spring Lake Township and Village Councilwoman Megan Doss, who loves the quaintness of the village and wants to keep village government intact.

In 2012, Hatton launched a petition drive to dissolve the village and make it part of the township. Although she acquired enough signatures from registered Spring Lake Village voters to put the issue on the ballot, a circuit court judge determined that the village charter had no mechanism for disincorporating.

In November, 2016, Hatton ran for the office of village president on a platform of dissolving the village and making it part of Spring Lake Township. She beat out former Village President Bill Filber and then-current councilman Steve Nauta for that seat. Hatton believes village residents are victims of “double taxation,” paying property taxes to both the village and township.

Hatton is the only voice on council in favor of disincorporating.

A Disincorporation Work Group, chaired by Hatton's nephew, Tony Verplank, recommended that Village Council give people a voice in deciding whether or not to amend the charter to allow a mechanism for disincorporation.

However, Verplank and his group recommended against disincorporating, stating that savings for taxpayers would be “minimal.”

The question of amending the charter will be on the August ballot. If voters approve the amendment, residents could then petition to get the question of proceeding with disincorporation on the November ballot.

Village Council has approved spending $20,000 on resident education prior to the August election. Monday and Tuesday's sessions will cost about $5,000.

Village Clerk/Treasurer Marv Hinga estimates the village will spend $100,000-plus on the disincorporation issue this year.

Costs beyond that, and how debts would be repaid or village assets sold, are unknown at this time.

Here are two strongly diverse viewpoints (in their own words) on the subject, “dueling disincorporation.”

Joyce Hatton

The vote on Aug. 8, 2017, must be "YES" to provide a path to petition for disincorporation of Spring Lake Village. It will be important for Village voters to know that they won't lose anything by voting "yes" to amend the Spring Lake Village Charter. And the voters will be happy to know that they will be gaining the right to petition — one of the most basic human rights in our U.S. Constitution.

The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, and the Michigan legislatures have encouraged municipalities large and small for many years to share staff and office space, police forces, fire departments, public spaces like parks and beaches, buildings and equipment, and legal, financial, and engineering talent. And the state of Michigan has awarded grants to Spring Lake Village and Township for collaboration and sharing of staff and space.

I believe the State will award Spring Lake Village and Spring Lake Township a grant to help a disincorporation commission with an efficient and fair plan for distribution of its assets. The final disincorporation plan must be approved by the Governor before it can take effect. This commission may establish a "special assessment village district" for the purpose of voting on services that village residents may want to keep.

And the Spring Lake Township taxpayers will certainly want to keep ALL the Village's parks, because Township residents use the Village parks just as much as Spring Lake Village residents. And because the population of the Township is six times larger than the Village's — the Township residents probably use the parks — and churches and schools and streets – more!

The Disincorporation Work Group determined potential cost savings to taxpayers "would be minimal" if the village was dissolved. What is minimal about an annual savings of $700 in Village taxes to the average Village taxpayer? There would be NO Village taxes to pay!

When the Spring Lake Village annual employees wages and benefits for the 2016/2017 fiscal year are added up, the total sum comes to $684,000 before adding the clerk/treasurer's department ($172,000 according to Work Group's figures) and $54,000 for half of the DPW Director's time (who is employed by Spring Lake Township). Not having to pay the government employees of an incorporated charter village will be the biggest savings of all!

Looking to the future, the progress of "I.T." is moving so fast, that the "Opengov" new software can minimize all operating costs of our municipalities. Having one municipality to govern will save the most dollars for all 15,000 township taxpayers. To the future we go! Join us!

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Megan Doss

A few years back, my husband and I were on a hunt to find a house. Every time we found a listing in the Village of Spring Lake we would get excited. For so many reasons this area appealed to us. Surrounded with water on three sides, each street in the Village either led us to the Grand River or Spring Lake.

My husband loves to bike and I love to run, so living a block from the bike path was a perfect fit. I was thrilled to find out during the winter, this path was also snow free, with snow removal provided from the Department of Public Works. The house that we ended up purchasing was four blocks from Whistle Stop Playground, 1 ½ miles from Central Park, and about 1 mile away from Mill Point.

We could walk to Spring Lake District Library, the post office, and ride our bikes to Old Boys. Prior to purchasing the home, we also knew that we would have to pay taxes to both the Village of Spring Lake and to Spring Lake Township. With all of these services that the Village of Spring Lake provided, to us, it was well worth it.

When discussion emerged last year on the disincorporation of the Village of Spring Lake, at council we discussed the concept at great lengths. Very quickly, it was apparent that this is not the best interest for our residents. As a Spring Lake Village resident our taxes pay for 24/7 police protection, fall leaf collection, fall and spring cleanup, snow plowing, sidewalk snow removal, bike path snow removal, brush collection, spring and fall trash days.

With disincorporation, all of these services are gone. If residents would like those services back (after disincorporation) these services could be returned with a tax levy or special assessment from Spring Lake Township. We cannot predict how much that assessment or levy would cost.

All of our parks, playgrounds, and public spaces would have to be sold to pay off unfunded pensions, and existing debt (Village Hall building). The residents of Spring Lake Village would have to pay all debts remaining after the sale of Village properties.

Statutory Revenue Sharing would be gone ($8,967). Constitutional Revenue Sharing to Spring Lake Township would end ($184,000). Act 51 money (the village receives $203,000 from the state to fix major roads located within the Village) would go directly to Ottawa County Road Commission. We would have no control on when our roads would be repaired. The Village Road Mileage Revenue would also go directly to Ottawa County Road Commission. The Spring Lake Village Downtown District Authority would be disbanded.

Disincorporation is not in the best interest of our residents. Our taxes will increase with special assessments and debt pay off. Our Village services, the very reason that my husband and I choose to live in the Village of Spring Lake, will decrease. Please join me and vote no, August 8. If you are unclear on how the disincorporation of the Village of Spring Lake will affect you as a resident, I encourage you to attend the upcoming community engagements Monday, June 19, 6:30 p.m. and Tuesday, June 20 at 4 p.m., both to be held at the Spring Lake District Library.

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