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Cory calls for dissolving city

August 25, 2010 - The reasons why the Village of Clarkston became a city and whether those reasons are valid anymore doesn't really matter, says resident and former Councilman Cory Johnston.

With the recent vote to get rid of the City Police Department, Johnston feels it may be time to dissolve the city and surrender to Independence Township.

"What is the benefit of being a City over a Township," he asked. "Now all of our services come from the township, we don't have any vote on it, we don't have any say about it and we're paying the same rate as them, but we're paying total taxes twice as much. It's like 'why are we doing this?'"

Johnston said some of the original reasons for becoming a City in 1992 were to have control over development and zoning, to protect the historic area and character of the Village of Clarkston and to otherwise protect the area from the development that was occurring, and continues to do so, in Independence Township.

"The City also created a historical district and Historical Review Committee at around the same time for similar reasons," he said.

According to Clarkston News archives the village became a city on July 1, 1992. A letter sent out village residents stated "The Village Council can unequivocally state that city hood will provide more revenue than it will cost."

Johnston said Oakland County records show the 1991 tax rate for Village of Clarkston (pre city hood) was 10.78 mills local and 59.7 mills total. In Independence Township it was 4.79 and 53.7, an approximate 6 mill difference between village and township. In 1992, the first year Clarkston was an independent city, the rates were 10.7/59.5 for Clarkston and 7.8/56.7 for Independence, an approximate 3 mill difference. The Village of Clarkston residents currently pay approximately 13.2 mills in local taxes compared to approximately 6.9 mills in Independence Township not including special assessments.

"At the current assessed value of all property in the City of the Village of Clarkston; we are paying in excess of $283,000 more each year than the equivalently assessed property in the township, he said. "There are approximately 400 properties in the Village of Clarkston making an average greater cost of $700 per home per year to be in the City of the Village of Clarkston."

A month after becoming a city, Clarkston News wrote a story, Aug. 5, 1992, about local resident and attorney Jon Gaskell who started a petition drive "in hopes of pulling Middle Lake Road out of the fledgling City of Clarkston." Gaskell's reason was he didn't "see a need for a city government." Fifteen years later in 2007 Independence Township Trustee Dan Kelly suggested the city and the township consolidate to save money on shared services.

"I like nostalgia as much as anybody, but really tough economic times create the need for things like this. The bottom line is we can't have duplicative services that keep costing taxpayers extra money," Kelly said. "It didn't make sense to me three years ago and it still doesn't make sense to me today."

Kelly said he never wanted to "force anything on the City of Clarkston," but he also wanted people to know they were paying for "extra layers" of services they didn't have to such as lawyers, engineers and planners.

"The focus is always on the police department and DPW, but there is a whole other layer of government that nobody pays attention too," he said. "That's as much of a cost as the actual labor of the work being done."

As far as reasons to become a city to protect the historic district and downtown of Clarkston, Kelly said the historic district would be protected whether it was run by the city or the township.

"There are ways to protect areas, whether you make a Downtown Development Authority (DDA), you make a Downtown District, or whether you do a Corridor Improvement Authority. Government has created over the last 10, 15, 20 years things that didn't exist back when Clarkston became a City," Kelly said. "There are a whole lot of different ways to protect the integrity of the downtown area."

At this point Johnston said he plans on getting petition signatures from those he knows are interested and talking to those who aren't and see if he can generate enough interest.

"We'll have to get an attorney involved at some point because I don't know what the (legal) requirements are," he said. "Then we'll see if we want to make it a ballot issue and go from there."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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