Allegan County Commissioners Vote To Put Saugatuck Township Recycling Vote Back On November Ballot
The Allegan County Board of Commissioners voted to once again put a recycling millage on the Saugatuck Township ballot for the November 8 election, even though township voters defeated the measure in August.
That request to put the measure back on the ballot came from Saugatuck Township officials who, at a hastily called special meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9 without hardly any pre-notice to the public - and almost no public attendance or comments - voted 3-to-1 to ask the county to put the recycling measure back on the ballot.
The only township resident to show up and speak in opposition to the township actions was Saugatuck City Manager Kirk Harrier, who is also a township resident. (Harrier said he was speaking only as a Saugatuck Township resident).
The only other person to attend that special township meeting was a Local Observer reporter.
Harrier expressed to the four township board members his displeasure that they failed to adequately notify the public of their actions and that they called the special session at the noon hour so residents had little if any knowledge of their actions or could attend that meeting at that time of the day.
In a similar move, the Allegan County Board of Commissioners quickly added the township request to its agenda for an Aug. 11 workshop session. The general public again had no prior notice of this move by the county officials.
In a 3-1 vote at that workshop session (reportedly one commissioner left that meeting before the vote), county commissioners voted to approve putting the Saugatuck Township recycling initiative back on the November ballot.
However, those commissioners were then notified that their vote was null and void as it violated a voting rule.
County officials said township officials that day were even notified of the Allegan County commissioners failed vote and that the ballot initiative would not be on the November ballot.
However, later that day, at the county commissioners full session, they brought the township request back on their agenda and voted to approve it.
If the recycling measure passes in November, all Saugatuck Township residents/homeowners would be required to pay $36 per year for the next five years to pay for an Allegan County recycling program that is financially failing and cannot sustain itself, according to county records.
And those same county records reveal that even if the new mandatory recycling fees - the county refers to them as surcharges - is passed, the new $36 per year for five years’ fees still would not be enough to pay for the faltering program if usage by township residents increases from its currently limited numbers.
The Local Observer is in the process of filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the township and the county for those records showing the exact number of township residents who use this county recycling service.
Preliminary numbers so far provided by the county show less than 50% of township residents/homeowners actually use the program as well, primarily due to the fact that many residents’ primary trash haulers offer recycling services as part of their contract.
The only thing the new mandatory recycling fees would ensure is that Allegan County would be able to collect its administrative fees for running the troubled program and keep current county recycling head Ben Williams employed.
Williams is the administrator of the Allegan County Resource Recovery Program.
Also, according to county records, Saugatuck Township residents - not the county - would still be on the hook financially for any deficit incurred to run the county recycling program in the township as the township is required to pay for any deficits its program with the county incurs. If there is a deficit at the end of the year, the county simply bills the township for that amount and the township would take the money (funded by taxpayers) out of its general fund to pay that debt.
Whether the township would incur additional debt from using the county recycling program will depend on the township dollars collected; the amount of that money paid the county for administrative fees to run the recycling program; and how much the carting company (Republic) bills the county to provide those services.
Currently, township residents “voluntarily” pay $25 per year to participate in the county recycling program unless they opt out, but that option would be eliminated if residents vote in November to make the increased fees - $36 per residence per year for the next five years mandatory.
Additionally, something else neither township nor county officials have shared publicly with township residents is that if the recycling ballot issue passes in November, the county would have the right in five years to increase that mandatory amount and extend the mandatory fee costs on residents for up to another 10 years, if passed by voters.
Additionally, any there is any deficit in the costs to run the county program in Saugatuck Township during the duration of the program - including an extended 10-year mandatory program - if passed by voters after the current five-year run, would have to be taken out of the township’s general fund which is local taxpayers’ money as well, according to county records.
Also, if the “mandatory fee” passes in November, residents would no longer have a choice to participate and “voluntarily” $25 fee assessment on homeowners would end.
Another issue The Local Observer has pointed out, is neither Saugatuck Township nor county officials have regularly informed residents the $25 “voluntary” fees are placed annually on their tax bills or that they can opt out or refuse to pay that fee.