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Petition filed to disincorporate Sand Lake

Petition filed to disincorporate Sand Lake

By Judy Reed

If a couple of Sand Lake residents have their way, the Village of Sand Lake will no longer exist.

_N-Sand-Lake-signLast week, Brenda Ridgeway and Diana Comstock filed a petition with Nelson Township to disincorporate Sand Lake, which was established in 1869. According to Nelson Township clerk Laura Hoffman, the petition needed 49 signatures to go on the ballot in 2010, and 56 people signed. Hoffman certified the signatures and found that 53 of them were valid.

Ironically, Ridgeway and Comstock are both members of the Sand Lake planning commission, charged with advising the council on land use, zoning maps, updating the master plan, etc. Neither could be reached for comment before the Post went to press.

Sand Lake Village President Kirk Thielke can’t believe they are doing this. “I’ve been here 25 years and I love this place. It makes my heart ache to think this is going to be a ballot initiative,” he said.

He also noted that the views of the two women do not represent the Sand Lake planning commission or the Village of Sand Lake.

Thielke wasn’t completely taken by surprise, because he heard rumblings that a petition was being circulated. He said people are in a desperate state of mind because of the economy, and may have signed thinking they will save money on their taxes. But he noted that nobody attended the budget planning meetings, and he never heard any complaints about finances from the two residents that filed the petition.

Villagers currently pay 14 mills, which goes to fund the operation of the village, including the police department, department of public works, and a portion of the fire department.

According to Glen Armstrong, Nelson Township Supervisor, Nelson could not afford to take on the responsibility of those operations. “We don’t have any extra money,” he explained. “We already have budget problems of our own with the state cutting revenue sharing.”

Thielke wonders if people understand that. “We are a small village. People can walk into my store and talk to me about what’s on their mind. Marty (DPW) will come in on Christmas Eve and turn their water off if he needs to. That’s not going to happen with the county,” he said.

According to Nelson Township trustee Tom Noreen, if the vote passes, Sand Lake would probably lose their police department and the area would then be taken over by the Kent County Sheriff Department. A sheriff deputy would respond if one was available, just like in the township. “We could pay for a dedicated sheriff deputy but we don’t, we don’t have the money,” he explained.

Noreen noted that Sand Lake residents also have some big debt that wouldn’t go away—debt for road paving, new wells, and the wastewater treatment facility. Both he and Thielke said it also would probably be the end of the Fourth of July celebration held each year in Salisbury Park since the late 1800s.

Disincorporation is not a common occurrence in Michigan. Noreen said it was tried in Goodrich, in Atlas Township, but failed both times. Armstrong said Nelson Township’s lawyer told him that Caledonia also tried it 20 years ago, and that while it passed with a majority, it didn’t have a 2/3 vote, which the initiative would need.

Armstrong is not sure what all the ramifications would be if the ballot proposal passed. “We are in uncharted waters and have contacted our attorney,” he said. He also commented that he doesn’t know what would happen to all the revenue levels, whether they would go away. “Townships have different rules. We can only do what the state has written in the law that we can do. Villages and cities have more leeway,” he said.

Both Sand Lake and Nelson Township plan to discuss what to do next at upcoming meetings. The Sand Lake Village Council will meet on Monday, December 21, at the village hall at 7 p.m. Nelson Township will meet on Tuesday, January 12 at 7 p.m.

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