CRC Official Discusses Why Initial Consolidation Report Was Changed
As the debate over consolidation of the cities of Saugatuck and Douglas rages on - with some people, including city officials from both municipalities, asserting they have been subjected to character attacks -The Local Observer recently spoke with one of the authors of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan’s (CRC) report about recent revisions made to the report.
CRC Local Affairs Director Eric W. Lupher explained why some changes were made to the initial report after it was released.
The cities had requested - and paid for - the CRC to conduct an independent assessment as to the impact of consolidation, including what savings of taxpayers’ dollars, if any, would result.
The CRC released its study, but then a revised version was disseminated following a July 24 meeting between the CRC and city managers from both cities.
The changes brought accusations that officials of both cities pressured the CRC to revise their financial projections of the estimated cost savings to reflect a lower cost-savings amount.
Critics complained that officials from both municipalities do not support consolidation because it would mean elimination of some of their positions and that sparked their efforts to have the CRC reduce the amount of projected savings in the revised report.
Despite its revisions, the report essentially maintains the same assertion as before: consolidation of the two cities would save at least half a million dollars a year in operating costs.
This projected cost savings would be realized, said CRC officials, even though the most costly city services are already shared between the two municipalitie, including police, fire, library and transit services.
Most of the savings identified in the CRC report results from the elimination of double city staff personnel.
Lupher explained how certain “inconsistencies” in the initial report came about, saying, “The city managers did not want to meet with us (the CRC) before the report was complete because they didn’t want to give the public the perception they were trying to sway the report.
“It’s the type of thing that, in the best of circumstances, nothing would have been missed or misunderstood if the CRC had first met with the city managers, but perhaps the public would have perceived the city managers as swaying the report,” noted Lupher.
A re-evaluation of the public works operation resulted in one of the main changes in the report, said Lupher.
“We didn’t account for all of the staff required to run the public works, as pointed out by the city managers. Once we increased the staff, obviously a new (consolidated) city showed less savings,” said Lupher.
“It was a misunderstanding that has been sorted out.”
To come up with projected savings for the taxpayer, the revised report uses an example of the value of house at $200,000 ($100,000 in taxable value) as opposed to a property valued $500,000.
“The previous draft had a little higher (example for cost of a home) than what is the reality of an average resident (in the both municipalities),” said Lupher.
The revised reports projects about $192 a year in savings on city taxes for Douglas resident and $184 for a Saugatuck resident if they owned and paid taxes on their respective $200,000 property.
The cities commissioned the report and equally shared in its total cost of $10,000.
Lupher will be hosting a public presentation about the report on Tuesday, September 24th at 6 p.m. at the Saugatuck High School auditorium.