Village to City: Bellaire businesses and residents are divided on proposal

“Lamina strongly opposes the village to city. We see no benefits. Current profit margins are not good and we cannot afford what we project is $88,000 in additional taxes.”

? Dietrich Heyde

BELLAIRE – It was standing room only at the Bellaire Senior Center on Feb. 8 as the Michigan State Boundary Commission held a public hearing on the proposed incorporation of territory in Forest Home Township, Kearney Township and the Village of Bellaire into a home rule city.

That simple statement of purpose belies the complex issues the Commission, and ultimately the community, face in their decision.

More than a year ago, at the urging of local businesses, the Bellaire village government created a citizen committee to explore the possibility of turning the village into a home rule city.

Currently, the residents of Bellaire fall under the jurisdiction of two units of government. Besides the village government, part of Bellaire is within Forest Home Township and part is within Kearney Township.

The Village to City Committee conducted research and found significant advantages for the village residents in changing to a city. The plan calls for expanding the existing village boundaries to annex additional properties from both Forest Home and Kearney townships. The Committee recommended that the Antrim County Airport not be included within the city boundary. The Antrim County Board of Commissioners later affirmed this position. Of note, Shanty Creek is not included within the proposed city.

Upon their recommendation, the Bellaire Village Council petitioned the State Boundary Commission for the home rule city status. The Boundary Commission reviewed the petition, found it to meet their criteria, and then held a public hearing on Feb. 8.

At the hearing, presentations were made by James Pascoe, chairman of the Village to City Committee; Eric Cline, Bellaire Village Manager; William Fahey, attorney representing Forest Home and Kearney Townships; Terry Smith, Forest Home Township Supervisor; and Tim Comben, Kearney Township Supervisor.

Pascoe and Cline spoke in favor of the change, citing a reduction in property taxes for village residents. It’s felt that the village pays taxes to the townships for which they receive nothing in return. In addition, businesses within the city will also save personal property taxes.

Pascoe cited other benefits: “Consolidating all industrial activities into a city makes sense. Leave the resort residential focus to the townships. Forest Home Township master plan does not want industry. Kearney Township has Shanty Creek as its major economic base. Bellaire lies in an area that needs economic growth. Kids must leave the area to find jobs. Our greatest export is our children.”

Cline focused on community planning and governmental status as two important issues.

“Bellaire is a commercial center for the area. We need space to grow through community planning. Becoming a city provides us that ability. Also villages are not primary units of government. Bellaire elected officials are secondary to two township governments.”

Representing the townships, Fahey wasted no time countering these arguments.

“There is no advantage to the village to be a city. They have the same authority now to plan and zone. All economic development powers are currently available to the village such as tax abatements. There is open land currently that could be developed. The village could annex that property currently.”

Forest Home Township Supervisor Smith refuted the statement that the village has received nothing from the townships for their tax dollars. He claimed that over the past 20 years, more than double the tax dollars have been returned to the village.

The second part of the public hearing gave the audience a chance to voice their opinions. Several property owners in the proposed annexed area voiced concerns over the prohibition of hunting within city limits.

Several businesses voiced support for the city status. But several others not in the village, but in the proposed annexed portion, were opposed to the move, citing higher taxes.

Dietrich Heyde, Vice President of Manufacturing at Lamina, gave the most compelling testimony. The company has a nearly 50-year history in the area, is one of the largest employers and provides some of the highest-paying jobs in the area.

“Lamina strongly opposes the village to city,” Heyde said. “We see no benefits. Current profit margins are not good and we cannot afford what we project is $88,000 in additional taxes.”

Pascoe, on behalf of the Village to City Committee, has sent a letter to Heyde that Lamina was never in the boundaries of the city originally proposed by the committee. Heyde acknowledged he received such a letter and said he’s aware of the fact that his plant was included by the Boundary Commission as they squared off the boundaries. But he says it doesn’t matter who proposed their inclusion; he’s opposed to any effort to include Lamina in the city.

Asked whether Lamina would leave the area if they became part of a Bellaire city, Heyde said he wasn’t prepared to say at this time.

He did say that “an awful lot of work is being off loaded by manufacturers to foreign countries in an effort to improve margins.”

He feels the $88,000 additional taxes he estimates inclusion in the city would cost Lamina is the minimal amount.

“The actual cost could easily exceed that amount,” Heyde said.

There is now a 30-day period for interested parties to submit written information. From there the State Boundary Commission will hold an adjudicative meeting to discuss the information gathered from the public hearing and will vote on what decision to recommend. That recommendation is then acted upon by the State of Michigan Director of Consumer and Industry Services. If the approval is received, Bellaire must then draft a city charter. All registered voters within the new city will vote on the charter. If the vote passes, Bellaire will then become a city.

Whatever the eventual outcome, it’s clear that this issue will be hotly debated in the months to come. BN