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State approves Saugatuck-Douglas merger

3:03 AM, Jan 10, 2013   |    comments
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SAUGATUCK-DOUGLAS, Mich. (WZZM) - A plan to combine two lakeshore communities into one government could be just weeks away, now that the state has approved the plan.

Starting February 18, Saugatuck and Douglas will begin merging, unless there are enough petition signatures against the measure before then.

"Right now, there is no plan in place for how this is going to transition and that's the scary thing," says Saugatuck city manager Kirk Harrier.

Harrier says the plan to merge the two cities could lead to unwanted consequences.

"If you decrease personnel, I guarantee you the level of services people are used to will decrease. There's no other way around it," says Harrier.

Frank Lamb, with the Consolidated Government Committee, led the way for consolidation by collecting petition signatures.

"It's needed for the future of both communities, for the resort community, for the harbor which needs dredging, and for saving half a million dollars a year," says Lamb.

In order to get the state's approval for consolidation, a petition was signed by five percent of registered voters in each of the cities.  However Harrier says that doesn't necessarily represent the majority opinion.

"It's a pretty low amount of people to start the process," says Harrier.

Meanwhile, Harrier says another petition is circulating that would put the merger to a public vote.

"Less than 100 signatures need to be obtained, which I don't think is probably going to be a problem," says Harrier.

However, some worry the voting process would be unbalanced, because Douglas has more registered voters.

"That would give Douglas more of a say so in what would happen in Saugatuck; a lot more pull in voting and calling the shots," says Gregory Muncey, who lives in Saugatuck.

Others hope the cost savings will give businesses a boost.

"I think if [Saugatuck and Douglas do] consolidate, maybe it will [bring] some improvements in the downtowns of both towns," says John Jerome, owner of the Butler Pantry.

If consolidation moves forward, a separately elected or appointed charter commission would make many of the decisions. City leaders say if the measure goes to the ballot, it likely wouldn't be voted on until November.


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