Thursday, June 21, 2012

Consolidation comments

Some members of the crowd raise hands to oppose consolidation.

More than 200 people filled the Saugatuck High School gymnasium Wednesday afternoon and evening for a public hearing on the proposed consolidation of Saugatuck and Douglas cities and Saugatuck Township. The State Boundary Commission heard presentations from each municipality, from the Consolidated Government Committee, the group that initiated the drive for the merger, and from the opposition group, Citizens for Independent and Cooperative Communities.
Here are some comments made at the meeting:

Dennis Schornack, chairman of the State Boundary Commission, about why the first public hearing date was voided: “Due to a misfire by the U.S. Post Office.”

Travis Randolph, chairman of the Consolidated Government Committee, about the three governments: “We had no articulated vision for our shared future.”
— noting the fire and library districts: “Consolidation works.”
— to those who say local government doesn’t need fixing in relation to saving a half-million dollars through a merger: “Wasting $500,000 is broke.”
— “Simple fact: We are one community. As long as we have two governments, our one community is slated to go in two directions.”

Frank Lamb, member of the Consolidated Government Committee, about consolidation: It will “save taxpayers money by eliminating duplicate services.”

Bobbie Gaunt, member of the Consolidated Government Committee: “Consolidation will multiply our strength.” That strength will help attract entrepreneurs, families and jobs.
— “Consolidation means we will move forward as one community, not two.”

Bill Wester, supervisor of Saugatuck Township: “Consolidation is not in the best interest of our constituents.”
— when asked by the chairman of the State Boundary Commission if he supported merging the two cities: “I have a tendency to agree with the cities.”

Phil Quade of Saugatuck Township address the boundary commission.

Phil Quade, Saugatuck Township manager: “Saugatuck Township has no debt.”

Jane Verplank, Saugatuck city mayor, about a consolidation study: “I need a detailed plan.”
— “This consolidation cannot be done without a government buy-in.”
— Saugatuck “has no funds to pay for this very costly journey into the unknown.”
— About charter, zoning changes: “Legal fees for these rewrites will be astronomical.”
— “No do-over” once consolidation takes place.
— “Big government only gets bigger.”

Saugatuck city officials address the boundary commission.

Barry Johnson, Saugatuck city councilman: “Saugatuck city government is lean”; “Saugatuck is fiscally strong.”
— “We have a long history of cooperation with our neighbors.”
— “Saugatuck exemplifies efficient and cost-savings of a small government.”

Bill Hess, Saugatuck city councilman, member of Citizens for Independent and Cooperative Communities, about the removal of Saugatuck Township from the consolidation plan: “It’s the ever-changing, ever-shrinking cost-savings story.”
— If merged with Douglas: “Will the current Saugatuck be in the minority and lose our identity?”
— “Saugatuck government works. Why fix something that’s not broken?”

Jim Wiley, mayor of Douglas, about the removal of Saugatuck Township from the consolidation: “The Consolidated Government Committee has changed the target in the middle of the process.”
— About the consolidation group’s studies: “What should we believe?”
— The Consolidated Government Committee “started with good intentions,” but its studies are flawed.

Bill LeFevere, Douglas city manager, about the five-page study on the more than $500,000 in savings the Consolidated Government Committee says a merger will save the communities: “This doesn’t qualify as a consolidation study. It’s a sound byte.”

Matt Balmer, former Douglas mayor, member of Citizens for Independent and Cooperative Communities, about the history of Saugatuck and Douglas leaving the township to form independent cities: “People have decided they wanted to have their independence.”
— “What we’re talking about is a re-consolidation.”
— On cooperation: “We’re already together.”
— To the State Boundary Commission: “Please don’t make us the poster child for consolidation.”

R.J. Peterson, member of the Consolidated Government Committee, said he has 50 reasons why the two cities should be merged. One reason, he said, is that having two cities “imposes repressive and hidden taxes on businesses.”

John Thomas, Saugatuck Township resident, said he signed the petition to consolidate the three communities but a new petition should be circulated: “I did not sign a petition on a referendum of combining two of our communities.”

Janet Rund, Saugatuck Township resident, said the Consolidated Government Committee is funded by big companies, including a donation from developer Aubrey McClendon who has sued Saugatuck Township in federal court over zoning issues: “Why are they spending so much more ... money that could be put to worthwhile parts of the community, like the harbor?”
— Consolidation would allow government “to be run by people with the deepest pockets.”

Phil Miller, Saugatuck city resident, said the area’s zoning would be at risk in a consolidation. He said consolidation is best used for “troubled communities,” not well-run ones.
— Consolidation is “a solution looking for a problem.”

Keith Charak, Douglas resident, said he has “a huge concern” about how the State Boundary Commission in April suggested to the Consolidated Government Committee that it should drop the township from the merger plans. To the boundary commission:  “In essence, it was your idea to get rid of the township.”
— The boundary commission’s “ultimate goal is to consolidate something.”

Doug Hesse, Saugatuck Township resident, was concerned that if the township became a city, residents would no longer be able to hunt and fish: “Less government is best for us.”

Lesa Werme, Saugatuck city resident, said the Consolidated Government Committee is made up of non-elected people. “Don’t destroy what you can’t remake.”

Catherine Simon, Saugatuck city resident, former mayor of Saugatuck, said the two cities do not cooperate as well as they should: “We pale at the simple task of cooperation.”
— About lack of cooperation between the cities: “Petty competition does exist — and it’s expensive.”

Joan Lamb, resident of Douglas, member of the Saugatuck school board, said a consolidated government would benefit seniors and others by bringing health care to the area: “Now we don’t have any medical care in Saugatuck-Douglas.” A consolidated government would have more strength to negotiate with a hospital.

Peg Sanford, Saugatuck city resident, said she would like a woman on the State Boundary Commission: “Women play a healthy role in our government.”  Dennis Schornack, chairman of the State Boundary Commission, said he would tell the people in Lansing to consider a female for the commission if she would tell the Allegan County probate judge to appoint a woman as the local boundary commission representative.
Sanford said consolidation could mean the loss of Saugatuck’s historic district (Douglas does not have one) and a drop in parks funding (Douglas’ parks budget is half of Saugatuck’s funding): “These are just two of the very distinct differences in our community.”
— “I love my Douglas neighbors, but I still believe in local control.”

The State Boundary Commission. Chairman Dennis Schornack is second from right.

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