Saugatuck-Douglas Merger Debate Heats Up as Election Day Nears

Posted at 6:23 PM, Oct 29, 2013
and last updated 2013-10-29 20:31:16-04

SAUGATUCK & DOUGLAS, Mich. — The future of two small communities could change come election day.

The political signs for and against merging Saugatuck and Douglas are on virtually every street.  Someone took the fight to new depths by placing a sign in the water so drivers passing by can see it.

“Since this has grown into one community, we’ve retained the two administrations, which makes it dysfunctional. Just as having two popes, two mayors of any town would be dysfunctional,” Roland Peterson, owner of a marina near where the sign was placed, said.

He’s is in favor of combining the communities and said a merger will help the harbor, which affects his business. He feels a single administration would make a quicker decision to dredge compared to two entities.

He also believes there is a misunderstanding among citizens about what this vote really means. Despite the question on the ballot, he said it’s not a final step.

“Voting `Yes` doesn’t mean that they’re improving consolidation. It just means that they want to go ahead with the process of learning about consolidation,”

If the ‘Yes’ vote wins, township officials say both communities would still have to approve a city charter. If that hurdle is cleared, estimates show the consolidation could save the cities $500,000 in taxes.

“My take on this is that, in fact, it won’t save (tax dollars) because there’s so many things that haven’t been considered,” Cynthia Mckean, a Saugatuck resident, said.

She’s among the residents with a ‘Vote no’ sign in her front yard.  She said Saugatuck would be on the losing end of a merger.

“If we combine the two, Saugatuck today has a much smaller population that Douglas. So over time, Douglas will outvote Saugatuck on virtually everything just because their population is bigger,” she said.

She’s concerned Saugatuck will become Douglas and lose its own identity. Mckean believes harbor issues can be solved with both communities as they are.

“Today, Saugatuck and Douglas work really well together. We have a lot of combined services. We have the school. We have the fire department. We have to water department.  We have the library to name a few, but we are very different in what it is that we emphasize,” she said.

If a merger is approved, FOX 17 learned that millions of dollars could be spent on the consolidation exploration process (i.e. legal fees). A township official said the state could chip and cover the costs. However, that is not a guarantee.