Fall Colors on Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
Fall Colors on Bluff Road | Jane Boursaw Photo
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Editor’s Note: The Peninsula Township Board is hosting a special informational meeting tonight, Sept. 7, 7 p.m., at St. Joseph Catholic Church to discuss the idea of the township switching from a “general township” to a “charter township.” Township resident Joe Gorka weighs in with his thoughts below. -jb)

As a community, Old Mission Peninsula residents have an important information meeting coming up tonight at 7 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

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Our township attorneys Fahey Schultz Burzych Rhodes, a well-respected law firm statewide, will present a comparison and offer a discussion about general law and charter township forms of local government.

Currently, PeninsulaTownship is a general law township. This form of local government was created shortly after Michigan became a State in 1835. It functions well for Michigan townships with smaller populations and smaller state equalized values. General lat Township structure was established when state laws and court decisions regulating authorities and operations of Michigan townships were much simpler.

In my case, I served in a northern Oakland County rural township in a number of capacities, and was mentored for almost 15 years by a working township supervisor, Collin Walls, to learn modern township management and become a township supervisor. Half of the time I served in Springfield Township, we were a general law township. The last half of the time served was after we changed into a charter township. I early advocated with Collin the change into charter status.

Charter townships are a newer form of government structure, created by the Charter Township Act in the late 1940’s, as more townships across the state grew in population with a growing need for services. This gave townships the option to remain a township, but not incorporate into a Home Rule city or village government.

Cities and villages have much higher taxation powers, and many have millage rates above 15 mils without a vote of the electorate.

Charter townships can tax a maximum limit of 5 mils without an authorization by voters. General law townships can raise taxes up to the Headlee limit, which is restricted by the budget-reducing effects of the Headlee Amendment.

Both general law and charter townships can hire a manager or a superintendent to take on the duties which township supervisors in smaller townships usually serve.

As townships grow in population and values, services and legal requirements become more complex, and a working supervisor in larger townships is becoming a rare bird due to the time and training requirement for management competence. As daily operating matters become more complex, a township supervisor – whether in a charter or general law township – has to keep up. Often, the township board will hire a trained and experienced professional township manager.

In no case does a township manager replace the authority and function of the zoning ordinance, its administration, the planning commission, the board of appeals or the parks committee.

When we moved to Saugatuck, I became the township supervisor within three years as a result of the training with Collin Walls. As good as our progress was in Saugatuck with improving roads, water and sewer utilities, parks, police, and zoning, I often looked at the job Rob Manigold did for Peninsula Township and remarked to him that I couldn’t competently do his supervisor job due to the size, number and complexity of issues facing Peninsula Township.

The same is true for Isaiah Wunsch today. He is a remarkably talented, perceptive and trained supervisor, excelling in the tough job he stepped into when Rob retired.

If Isaiah were to leave, it seems there are very few, if any, among us who could fill those supervisor’s shoes competently. Whether we are a general law township or a charter township, we would likely be looking at a professional manager in the absence of a competent working supervisor.

Moving into this informational meeting tonight, let’s keep an open mind to learn both the complexities of modern township management and whether going to charter status will open new possibilities to maintain and improve our quality of life on the Old Mission Peninsula.

One likely example for an improvement associated with going to charter status would be to secure increased services that the township receives from the Grand Traverse County Road Commission. Along with my neighbors, I’ve been involved in a series of largely unsuccessful struggles with the Road Commission to save trees during paving projects; improve visibility, pedestrian and bicycle safety; and obtain time and money commitments to repair our township roadways.

Peninsula Township can improve our footing with the Road Commission. Currently, we send them a mandatory one mil of our taxes for roads due to the county voters’ passage of the county-wide road millage. If our township state equalized value is $1 billion, that’s $1 million that Peninsula Township sends to the Road Commission every year that this county-approved millage is in effect.

Do we see anything close to 1/2th or 1/4th or even 1/10th of that $1 million being spent annually by the Road Commission on our township roads?

With extra road funds coming from charter status or a successful multi-year Peninsula Township dedicated road millage, we can offer the Road Commission a 25- to 50-percent share of costs, and we would have a real seat at the table with the Road Commission to schedule road improvements, set paving and striping specifications for saving trees and improving conditions for our pedestrian and bicycle users.

We found this to be the case in Saugatuck, when we could offer the Road Commission a 25- to 50-percent cost sharing from a dedicated road fund. The roadway improvements were visible, and this millage was very popular. The township board signed off on all work orders setting specifics for improvements and timing.

In the case of Peninsula Township, we can recapture much of the $1 million we are forced to send the Road Commission every year, by a small new additional investment millage in our roads. The way we sit now, Peninsula Township gets much closer to zero than the $1 million dollars cycled back from the Road Commission every year. By offering them 50 cents, we can get 50 cents returned of our county millage to spend on our roads here. Our east-west roads especially need the attention.

We’ve had some struggles which are anomalies in the past fews years, like the winery lawsuit, working to figure out the true motives and best solutions. I believe these matters are separate from making a decision on the long-term structure of the government that will serve us.

Let’s go into this for an education. I imagine this question will not be settled this year. As Peninsula Township residents, we are likely in for a period of study and reflection as a community before any vote is taken.

Joe Gorka, Peninsula Township Resident

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A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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