Now I've done it. My wild and crazy ideas made it to the front page of the Oakland Press Resident aims to dissolve Clarkston into Independence Township The subtitle is "Proposal would urge city to become part of the Independence for lower property taxes. True enough but there may be a need for a little more explanation and quite a few more reasons why a "city" could be better off not being a city.
My proposal is to eliminate the municipal entity known as the City of the Village of Clarkston because it serves no real purpose other than costing the taxpayers more money. If approved by the voters, it would not be to "urge" but to make it mandatory. I've tried urging and it didn't work.
But it really is not about the taxes although that is important in these economic times. It is really about the quality of government and what it costs to have that. They City of the Village of Clarkston has neither the funds or expertise to do a budget analysis as well as the surrounding Township does. They have little money for legal work as they already spent the entire year's legal budget in the first 6 months of the year. Other than the part time government, the only service provided by the city is the Department of Public Works (DPW) that mows the lawn in the summer, plows the secondary streets in the winter and does whatever they do between those activities. The DPW does not have time to weed, or maintain trees so the public gardens and street trees are generally in pretty bad conditions until someone volunteers to help out. Meanwhile, all the other services required by a city are provided by the surrounding township and the County. Even things like the Senior Center and Parks and Recreation are provided by the generosity of Independence Township as the City provides no social services or much of anything else. But for some unexplained reason, we do pay higher taxes for this lack of service.
A few of the elected officials have implied that zoning and protection of the Village's historic assets are really the only reasons Clarkston became a city and that is still the important issue today. Good reasons but pretty minimal if one considers all the things a city can do, or even what they legally have to do. I'll leave the historic issues for another time and I've already written about them before, so let's talk about zoning. The City Council has made the City Planning Commission inconsequential by ignoring any recommendation the Planning Commission makes and bypassing them completely whenever possible. Planning Commission meetings are generally unannounced and held random days that few know anything about. The City Zoning Ordinance, which is what the Planning Commission operates by, is regularly ignored by just about everyone inside and outside of the city government. It is not enforced at all and the Council is still questioning who is supposed to enforce it. The City Charter says it is the City Manager but the charter is also ignored whenever it is convenient. So how can zoning be important to anyone when the ordinance that controls it is ignored, the Commission that controls it is ignored, and it is seldom enforced? Seems to me that zoning is one of the lowest priorities, not the highest. Why are we paying higher taxes for this?
So the question comes back to why pay higher taxes for less service, few standards, and a government with less expertise? As I noted above, the only answer given so far is to protect our zoning and historic character. Reasonably good goals if they were being acted on but what are we protecting them from? Township residents enjoy our zoning and history as much as city residents. They sponsor and organize parades and events on Main Street every year and provide summer concerts in the park. The city has no real involvement with these other than allowing them to happen. One of my favorite summer events is the Saturday morning Clarkston Farmers' Market which has been in downtown Clarkston since they first began. Almost every Saturday as there is one when the city won't let them because another non-profit organization gets priority over all others. This will change starting this summer as the Clarkston Farmers' Market for the first time will be in Independence Township, not in the City of the Village of Clarkston.
Like any other service or product, if you can get a better one for less money, most people will take the offer. There are some that say it doesn't cost that much more. I guess those people are willing to accept less and pay more more for it, or perhaps they have so much money that it doesn't matter. Good for them.
The township and the people that live there are not our enemy. They are our friends and neighbors, Why not work together, pay equally and do good things with the money that is now wasted on being a city? If there is someone out there who is going to destroy Main Street, please have them call me. After 32 years in Clarkston, I have yet to meet them other than perhaps those attempting to govern the City of the Village of. We can do far better and we can do it for less cost.