This week, Governor Rick Snyder called for an overhaul of state aid to local governments. He says discretionary revenue sharing should be replaced by a new system that rewards efficiency and consolidation.
Historically, combining local units of government has been a difficult proposition, but one Northern Michigan village might be willing to consider a merger.
For A While Now
The idea of consolidation isn't a new one: Two units of government coming together to share services: office staff, public works, and fire and police protection.
In Northern Manistee County, consolidation between the Village of Onekama and Onekama Township has been tossed-around over the last decade.
About 600 people live in the Village of Onekama, which hugs the shores of Portage Lake and just a stone's throw from Lake Michigan.
Close to 1,500 people live in largely rural Onekama Township, with shoreline along both Portage Lake and Lake Michigan. Most people in the township travel into the Village for gas, groceries, and the local school district.
This time of year, the restaurants are quiet, the ice cream shop is closed for the season and the lumber yard is still pushing snow shovels.
Ray Franz is a long time resident and business owner in Onekama. He was also Onekama's Village President for six years ending in 2006. It's safe to say he's not a fan of consolidation.
"While there may be some minor savings of dollars somewhere along the way, and that's not even for sure, but maybe, I hesitate to go down that path because it will destroy link in that chain of representation for the people," he says.
But now, Franz is spending much of his time in Lansing. Last November, he was elected to the State House of Representatives, and he now finds himself at odds over consolidation with fellow Republican, Governor Rick Snyder.
And, in Onekama, the village board has asked the Citizens Research Council of Michigan to put together a report on consolidation with the Township.
"We Say Onekama"
"We've built a pretty good rapport in the last four years with the watershed combined; the master plan was a joint effort, the joint ordinance development, and now the joint consolidation. I think it's just time," says current Village President Bob Blackmore.
He says being able to sit down and work with township leaders shows that there is already a sense of community that goes beyond any political boundaries.
"Everyone calls us Onekama," Onekama Township Supervisor Dave Meister agrees with Blackmore. "They don't come into town and say, 'I live in the township.' They come into town, and if they tell anyone where they're from they say, 'I live in Onekama.' They don't say, 'Onekama Township'; they say 'Onekama,' the town.
"We say, 'Onekama.'"
Meister says, if consolidation happens, it would be the first time a village and a township have come together in this way in Michigan. A few years ago consolidation was on the ballot in Grand Blanc Township and the city of Grand Blanc. In that instance, a report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan showed the potential financial savings might not be as great as some people had hoped. In the end, voters decided against consolidation.
And that's the big question now in Onekama and elsewhere in the state: Will consolidation save people money?
Larry Merrill is with the Michigan Township Association.
"There's not a single case where a larger unit of government, on a per capita basis, spends less on a per capita basis, than smaller units of government," says the Michigan Township Association's Larry Merrill. "The trend is, definitely, that the bigger the unit of government the higher the cost.
"I don't think that should take anybody by surprise. But what does seem to surprise me is that people try to ignore that and make arguments that if we make government bigger, we make it cheaper. And that ought to go against everybody's intuition, their common sense and what they observe the real world to be."
But now, Governor Snyder is asking the legislature to encourage local units of government to find new ways to save money, including through consolidation. And even before the Governor's announcement, Onekama Township's Supervisor believed there could be a financial benefit, either in cost savings for township and village residents, or through revenue sharing... or both.
"I'm hoping the government would adjust revenue sharing for communities that did do this," he says. "And hopefully would recognize the fact that they're trying to save money in consolidation and maybe treat them a little differently than the other entities. And I think you'll probably see some of that."
This summer, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan will deliver a report to the people in Onekama outlining what savings they can expect if they approve consolidation. Then the boards of the Village of Onekama and Onekama Township will need to decide if they'll send the question to voters this fall.
There's a public meeting tonight with the Citizens Research Council of Michigan at the Farr Center in downtown Onekama.