Should village of Spring Lake disincorporate?

Many at community meeting say they're willing to pay more taxes for more services


SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WOOD) — The village of Spring Lake may soon be a thing of the past.

There is an effort to disincorporate the village, meaning it would became part of Spring Lake Township. Other Michigan villages have tried and failed to do the same thing.

It’s hard to say what the effects would be if the village disincorporates — mostly because it’s never been done before.

It will take two separate votes for the departure to happen, the first of which will be held August 8. A yes vote would allow the village to collect signatures to get the issue on the ballot in November. That’s when the actual vote on staying or leaving would take place.

>>PDF: Spring Lake village considers disincorporation

“We are eager for people to get out and vote,” village President Joyce Verplank-Hatton said.

Last year, she ran on the platform of disincorporation and won.

“We have a most unique and unusual situation where all of the incorporated villages pay double taxes,” Hatton said.

In a strange twist of fate, Hatton’s nephew, Tony Verplank, volunteered to be the chairman of the disincorporating study group that concluded remaining a village was in the best interest of the residents.

“The biggest reason is local control,” he said.

He said that if the village dissolved, state and local funding that now goes to the village would be redirected to the township. The township or county would then decide whether the funds would go back to the residents of the village or be spent on other township projects.

The second reason the committee opposed disincorporation was that it would result in a loss of village services.

Hatton argued the way those services work is actually one reason to get rid of the village.

“About 20 percent of the population now lives in communities like I am in, which is an association,” Hatton said. “We have none of those. All we get is 24/7 policing,” which she says would better serve the township.

“I would encourage everyone to do whatever they can to understand what they are voting for — not just the status quo or reduction of taxes, but understand or try to understand what this is going to mean to them and their everyday life,” Verplank said.

MOST AT COMMUNITY MEETING OPPOSE IDEA

More than 100 people packed a town hall meeting in Spring Lake on Monday evening, raising a number of concerns about the issue.

The meeting was run by Eric Lupher, the president of Citizens Research of Michigan. He started the meeting by getting a feel for the room by using text message polling. About 80 percent of those who participated in the poll were village residents. Eighty percent also said they would vote against disincorporation if asked to cast their ballots immediately.

Lupher broke down the differences between a city, township and village. He noted that historically, the big difference is that a village decides what it wants in its government and what services a resident receives beyond state law.

“As a village resident, you continue to be a township resident, but now you have this extra layer built on,” Lupher said.

But he added that throughout the years, a lot of the lines have been blurred.

“The big difference between a village and a township today is road responsibilities. For most parts, cities and villages look pretty much the same,” he said.

People who live in the village pay higher taxes. If the village were to dissolve, the services they receive — including public safety, storm water management, sidewalk and road maintenance — could be jeopardized.

“On those snowy days when you’re hoping the truck comes through and clears the street, you’re going to be tiered in as the county road commission thinks about what are the highest priorities,” Lupher said.

Most residents didn’t like that idea. They were OK with paying higher taxes because they like the services.

“Oh man, I’d be bagging leaves and shoveling my sidewalks … I don’t mind paying that little bit of extra for those things,” Councilman Michael Duer said.

Village resident Ernie Petrus also served on the disincorporation committee, which for the last four months spent time gathering information on what the effects of the move would be. He does not support dissolving the village.

“I really struggle with who benefits from disincorporation,” he said. “There’s three safety issues that I see. 24/7 police protection. We have a three-minute response time. It’s going to go to 18 because it will be handled out of Fillmore. So crime could be an issue. Secondly, the roads in the wintertime. I mean, if we’re not getting third, fourth, fifth choice by the county ’cause we’re a small fish in a big pond, then in fact there’s safety issues with buses and people going to school. And a lot of our parents take their kids to school.”

He said the schools will also lose crossing guards and officers at the schools.

Hatton, the village president, told the people at the meeting that merging with the township could be more cost-effective.

“We can bring them together and we can save so much money for the township and the village and we can have on manager,” she said.

Another informational meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Spring Lake Village Library.