By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sparks flew last week at a joint Manchester Village Council and Board of Trustees for Manchester Township meeting that Township Supervisor Gene Derossett called a “historic meeting.”
The meeting addressed the relationship between the village and township and broadband internet, a long-standing issue that would have unique effects on an area where the village and township boundaries overlap.
Lisa Moutinho, township trustee and member of the Broadband committee for the township, told the joint council and attendees in the Manchester High School Media Center on Wednesday, June 13 that in May the township had contracted with CCG for a feasibility study to see what their options were for bringing broadband to the township.
CCG is the same company that did Sharon Township’s study and was chosen because they were the only company that acknowledged the specific questions pertaining to the special village and township dynamic.
While the report was planned to be received by the end of summer, Moutinho reported that it was now looking like it wouldn’t be until early Fall. With a townhall planned later in the summer the study would get information on what would need to be bought and how it would be funded.
Ron Milkey, a township trustee, clarified what the township’s intent was with the study. Milkey spoke about “half-truths and fear mongering” pertaining to the study and wanted to clarify that the township board has no current plans to extend broadband in the township or village, much less a plan to finance it. Milkey said that the rumors of a millage and the village paying for it were simply not true.
After a public input session, discussions turned to the village council and township board of trustees. Members from the village council asked specific questions about how broadband would be funded through a millage. Nearby Lyndon and Sharon townships had a millage option included in their studies.
Village administration also talked about what information was already out there and how it could be dangerous. Village Manager Jeff Wallace identified information from Michigan Broadband Initiative about house values going up in the area with high speed internet. They stressed the need for communication from the township and that there were assumptions from both sides.
As discussion continued Village President Pat Vaillencourt talked about the relationship the village and township had, and how it was important to them. But Vailliencourt also said that village residents were being forgotten by not being included in some discussions.
Vaillencourt said that after not being included in any discussions it was time to determine where the relationship was. She stated that the village taxpayers pay a lot to the township, $125,000 per year for services. Her concern was how much more village taxpayer could pay.
She told the assembled crowd that the village taxpayers pay 16 mills to support the village, 8 mills for police services alone. 18 mills on taxes for the village total with 16 mills being paid for by the village and 2 mills by the township.
Derossett responded to a slew of questions by talking about the impact of the decision on all of them, he said there was no way to separate township residents from village residents.
Derossett, a realtor, spoke about his own experience holding open houses where people have asked about high-speed internet. He said with the reality being that people can work from home now, the feasibility study was done to simply see what options were out there. He stressed that certain questions couldn’t be answered because they didn’t have the technical answers, and that they are waiting on the results of the study from CCG.
Marty Way, a village council member, stated that as the village is responsible for 30% of township debt, it bothered him that the township didn’t contact the village before the feasibility study. He said contacting the village after the study wouldn’t be helpful because at that point “you’re wrapped up into whatever the voters choose.”
With the money already spent to do the feasibility study, Way said “it’s essentially a commitment to a vote by doing a costly survey without asking the village for input.”
Township Treasurer Laurie Carey said that the goal is to find a way to get broadband without having to have village taxpayers (who already receive high speed internet) pay. At the same time, Carey said she has heard from some village residents that are okay with the study if it means more options than the current ones in the area. Her point was that there were many different viewpoints from both sides and that the township needed the study from CCG to help make decisions moving forward.
Village administration said they felt like they were trapped in a corner, with a thin line of getting the study back and then having the time to make a choice.
With a low confidence in anything happening at the state level as far as legislation that could exclude members who already had the services, village administration then pressed township administration to see where they stood if a vote were to take place today.
Milkey countered saying he didn’t appreciate the village pushing them to reveal how they would vote when they didn’t have the information.
Vaillencourt pressed on, asking as an elected official with the right to know, if the only alternative was for a millage if they would consider moving forward to taking it to a vote.
Marsha Chartrand, a village council member, stated that she appreciated the cooperation between the village and township and that she wouldn’t expect the township trustees to choose how they would vote that night. Stating she herself hadn’t yet made up her mind, she understood the village concerns but that it was unfair to press the township.
The meeting wrapped up after two hours, with more discussion to come. In addition to the townhall meeting in mid-July, it will be a topic of discussion at the village council meeting on June 18.