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CRC Column

The right to criticize government is also an obligation to know what you are talking about. 
-Lent Upson, 1st Executive Director of CRC  

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The Costs, Benefits, and Alternatives for Consolidating the Onekama Governments
October 2011
Report 372


The Township of Onekama and Onekama Village are considering the implications of consolidating into a single governmental unit. The possibility was raised in their recent joint master plan and exploration of the possibilities has been facilitated by elected officials in both units. Those governments are located in Manistee County on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Because the Onekama Township lies on the shore of Lake Michigan, its size is reduced to only 18.1 square miles. Portage Lake is an inland lake located completely within the boundaries of Onekama Township. The Village of Onekama, which was established on the northern shore of Portage Lake, currently covers 1.5 square miles of the township.

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The population of the Township of Onekama was 1,329 people in 2010: 411 in the Village of Onekama and 918 outside of the village. The population density of the village is much higher than that in the rest of the township. The village has about 400 people per square mile: the balance of the township has 55.3 people per square mile.

While the number of housing units in the village has grown 28 percent over the past 50 years, most of the growth in housing stock in the area has occurred in the township outside of the village: up 42 percent to 856 units in 2009. In 2009, median township incomes were about 13.5 percent higher in than those in the village.

Disincorporate the Village

Under the General Law Village Act, disincorporation of a village may be initiated by circulating a petition requesting a vote on the question of whether the village shall disincorporate. Petition circulators must get a number of signatures equal to at least 15 percent of the registered electors of the village. The Village of Onekama currently has 378 registered electors, so a petition must contain a minimum of 57 signatures. The petitions are filed with the township clerk, who then has 14 days to determine the legal sufficiency of the petition.

From this point, the General Law Village Act provides two avenues to proceed with disincorporation:

  1. an immediate referendum, or
  2. creation of a disincorporation commission followed by a referendum.

a. Immediate Referendum

Should the elected village board take no action, the question of disincorporation would appear on the ballot at the next general or special election to be held in the village. Separate elections are held in (a) the village and (b) the portions of the township outside the boundaries of the village, respectively. Disincorporation of the village becomes effective using this avenue only if two-thirds (2/3) of the electors voting on the question in each jurisdiction vote "yes".

b. Disincorporation Commission and Referendum

The General Law Village Act also allows for the insertion of an intermediary step between the collection of petition signatures calling for disincorporation and the actual vote.

Once the clerk determines the sufficiency of the petitions, the village board may, by resolution, elect to adopt procedures set forth in the General Law Village Act to create a disincorporation commission. The commission would be composed of six members with equal representation from the village and township. The commission would be charged with addressing several issues. By addressing these issues prior to the election, voters should be better informed of the implications of disincorporation as it relates to the village's assets, services, and personnel.

Upon completion of the disincorporation commission's work, the plan would be submitted to the village and township boards for their approval. Pending such approval, the question of disincorporation would appear on the ballot at the next general or special election to be held in the village. Unlike the provision for taking the question of disincorporation directly to the ballot that requires a supermajority two-thirds (2/3) vote, the question posed after the work of a disincorporation commission requires only a majority of the votes cast by (a) electors of the village and (b) the portions of the township outside the boundaries of the village.

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