RICHLAND, Mich. — Voters in the small Kalamazoo County village of Richland could make state history if they choose to eliminate their community on May 3.
On Tuesday, voters will be asked whether to remain a village or dissolve into neighboring Richland Township. A two-thirds super majority vote to dissolve the village would mark the first instance of such a decision in Michigan history.
"There’s too much at stake for me to be willing to give up what we’ve got in this great little village," said Sherry Crossley, whose family has lived in the village for more than 100 years.
"I think it’s a rash judgement —eliminating the village as it stands because you’re unhappy with either police or the council—there are things in place to solve those problems; you don’t just eliminate the whole village.”
Crossley said too much remains unknown about what might happen if the village dissolves because it has never happened before. Questions over taxes, ordinance enforcement, and police and other safety services are among the main concerns for Crossley and others fighting to "Preserve the Village."
"You can call the county clerk, the local clerk, the township, nobody has any answers whatsoever," she said. "With so many unknowns it just seems like the only reasonable vote it ‘no.’”
But critics, lead by a group calling themselves "Reclaim Richland" say dissolving the village is necessary to eliminate redundant services and "excessive" spending.
“Public office is a public trust and I think they’ve betrayed that trust," said Rob Perks, who recently filed a complaint with the Michigan Bureau of Elections against the village.
Perks claims village leaders violated state election laws by mailing out fliers advocating a 'no' position on the upcoming vote. Perks said he had planned to remain involved in the dissolution fight until he received the mailer.
"I have a real problem whenever you start using public funds—my money—to put forward something that is one-sided," he said. "I think there’s been illegal actions taken by the village and they cannot operate above the law.”
Because the proposal requires a two-thirds vote for passage, Perks admits advocates of dissolving the village face a challenge.
“Even if we fail, hopefully it’ll open the eyes of the village to take a good look at what they’ve been doing in the past and realize they really need to get their act together," he said.
Two previous efforts to disincorporate the village have failed.