Saugatuck Township Officials Don't Like Voters Recycling Fee Decision - Seek New Vote
Some members of the Saugatuck Township Board, apparently upset that township residents on August 2 voted down a request to allow Allegan County to collect a $36 annual mandatory fee/surcharge/tax from each household for five years to fund local recycling services such as curbside pickup, want to put the issue back before voters in November.
In the August 2 election, township voters said no to the mandatory fee/surcharge for the recycling services, with 245 no votes to 211 yes votes.
Despite last week’s vote, still in place is a $25 “voluntary fee” that the township puts on every homeowner’s annual tax bill to help pay for those very same county recycling services.
Township officials have done little to inform their constituents about the fact that they can opt-out of paying that $25 or can just refuse to pay it. The problem, as pointed out by The Local Observer, is many if not most township residents aren’t even aware they are paying that $25. A Michigan law passed in 1989 - Public Act 138 - allows municipalities to put that fee on residents’ tax bills without their approval or even knowledge.
Apparently not liking that recent voting result, and to try and get the measure back on the next November 2 ballot, the township had to call a special meeting Tuesday to vote on whether to make the request to the Allegan County Board which, by law, has to approve putting the issue once again up for a public vote.
With the deadline to put any new ballot initiative before voters on November 2 set for next week, Saugatuck Township officials had to vote on it to get it to the Allegan officials in time for their board meeting this Thursday (Aug. 11).
The township officials set their meeting for noon Tuesday, giving almost no time for township residents to learn about it so they could attend and voice their opinions.
Only two people showed up at the meeting - Kirk Harrier, a township resident (and Saugatuck City Manager, but was at the meeting only to speak as a resident) who had been following the township officials’ efforts - and a reporter for The Local Observer.
Harrier spoke at the meeting and voiced his concerns about the effort to mandate fees for a county recycling program that is in financial trouble and that only serves a small percentage of township residents. He also questioned the township board’s decision to hold a meeting at noon and not giving the public ample notice or time to attend and voice their opinions or ask questions.
Four township board members attended the Tuesday meeting - Roy McIllwaine, Lori Babinski, Brad Rudich and Bill Wester.
McIllwaine, Babinski and Rudich voted yes to request that Allegan County officials put it back on the ballot in November. Wester voted no.
McIllwaine, a long-time recycling proponent, explained his reasons for wanting to try and give township voters another crack at passing the mandatory recycling fee/surcharge.
He blamed the failed vote last week on The Local Observer, saying the newspaper ran an editorial in opposition to the measure that he said contained inaccurate information that may have swayed the voters.
McIllwaine said one inaccuracy was that the Observer reported that Allegan County’s recycling coordinator, Ben Williams, had told various municipal officials in the county he was trying persuade to put the madatory fee request on their respective ballots, that if any money raised from the new fees was more than was needed to fund the program, that the municipalities could use that money “for anything it wanted to.”
McIllwaine didn’t say what, if anything else, he felt was inaccurate in the Observer editorial.
McIllwaine did say he also had a problem with the Observer running an editorial in opposition to the vote for mandatory fees for a county recycling program six days before that vote took place, saying that didn’t give anyone a chance to respond.
McIllwaine also pointed out that of the eight Allegan County municipalities that voted on the same ballot request, only Saugatuck Township voted it down and that somehow was reflective of and a result of the “inaccurate” information in the Observer editorial that was written against the measure.
Observer Editor Mike Gallagher said the information provided in the newspaper’s editorial - which appeared in the July 29 edition - “was accurate” and that the township officials were apparently hoping that no one would try and inform township residents about what a boondoggle the recycling fee request really was.
“It’s funny that Mr. McIllwaine disputes our reporting of some of the comments made by Ben Williams to other municipal officials - which several of those officials confirmed for us - when he wasn’t even in attendance at those meetings nor did he check with those other officials before he made his unfounded accusations,” said Gallagher.
“Mr. Williams did make those comments, and to clarify, he also on other occasions explained further that any extra money raised from this new proposed fees/taxes could be used by the municipalites for anything they wanted to if it were for some other type of recycling program services.
“The real reason Mr. McIllwaine is angry - and the three other township officials want to put this back on the next ballot - is we are calling them out for the lack of transparency to the Saugatuck Township residents and voters on this issue.
“The reality is these township officials have not been transparent about this whole attempt by them and the county at grabbing even more money out of Saugatuck Township residents’ pockets for recycling services which most residents already receive through their private garbage company. If that vote had passed, most township residents would be forced to pay for something they are already paying for. What they are really doing is being asked to subsidize those people that don’t want to pay for private carting services, including recycling.
“The other thing Mr. McIllwaine and the others apparently don’t want Saugatuck Township residents to know is that the bulk of the money raised, if approved by the voters, would primarily line the pockets of the carting company - Republic Services - and help keep Mr. Williams employed. Right now the whole county program is not able to support itself financially and that’s why they’re looking for a bailout on the back of our taxpaying residents!
“I expect the county this Thursday to rubber stamp the township request to give them all another bite at this unnecessary and excessive grab for our township resident’s hard-earned money,” he added.
“The Local Observer will not be intimidated by the angry and false accusations by Mr. McIllwaine or anyone else. We will continue to report on this matter accurately and fairly and then Saugatuck residents can decide for themselves whether this new mandatory recycling tax request is a good thing or not. We believe this is a boondoggle. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Mr. McIllwaine should understand that.
“I have faith in the intelligence of the Saugatuck Township residents. We all appreciate recycling. We don’t appreciate hidden agendas,
false accusations and a failure to keep the voting public well informed on these important issues.”