Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber Of Commerce Head Hopes To Revive Consolidation Move
The issue of consolidating the cities of Douglas and Saugatuck into one entity is not quite dead, notwithstanding that the proposal to do so was turned down by voters in a November 2013 referendum election.
The issue, one way or another, from time to time, resurfaces.
“It has been 80 weeks now since the City of the Village of Douglas and the City of Saugatuck chose to refuse the special offer by the governor to provide up to $15 million for community administrative planning,” notes a June 29 statement, in part, released by the Saugatuck-Douglas Chamber of Commerce.
“As a result, the Saugatuck-Douglas community continues to struggle under the burden of excessive, duplicated administrative expenses. It’s a double whammy: lost money and lost opportunity.” The proposal to merge the two cities was hotly debated and the statement refers to one of the principal arguments pressed by proponents for consolidation: eliminate unnecessary duplicate governmental positions, including city manager, clerk, treasurer and department of public works director.
They claimed the merger would save taxpayers money, decrease red tape inherent in the process of working with two governments often dealing with one issue, and allow for better harbor and economic planning.
Opposing groups, on the other hand, countered that the cities, independently, were managed well and were successfully operated. As a result, there was no need to merge. Even more importantly, they argued, the two cities already collaborated on many fronts to provide service to both community members: police, fire, library, sewer and water, transit authority and the most recent example, the harbor authority.
A merger would also make the two distinct cities lose their identities, anti-merge parties further claimed.
“You don’t have to merge the two cities. Having just one office will work wonders: one assessor, one clerk, and so on,” said local marina owner RJ Peterson, who heads the Chamber.
“Based on current city budgets, the unnecessary administrative expense exceeds $20,000 every week!
This money could be put to any number of community improvements such as critical harbor improvements, a safe walking path to Oval Beach, ice-skating rinks, and more. Taxes could even be lowered,” stated the recent Chamber statement.
In Douglas, the consolidation proposal garnered 385 no votes against 226 yes votes. In Saugatuck, 265 voters said no against 192 yes votes.
The voting outcome came despite a report by the independent, third-party Citizens Research Council of Michigan—paid for by the two cities—that showed that a consolidated community would bring in a savings of $467,191 a year for the two cities’ taxpayers.
That, countered opponents, does not guarantee a decrease in taxes or create a lower-cost government because a new administration would use the savings for roads or building renovations instead of tax relief.
Furthermore, any savings raises thorny issues, such as questions of what existing debt from what previous city would be paid off.
Months following the defeated referendum, any doubts by anti-merger parties were further eroded when a Competitive Grant Assistance Program applied for by the cities to offset the cost for the Citizens Research Council report failed to go through.