Residents grapple with city identity vs. gov't reform in web debate
October 06, 2010 - To be or not to be – that was the question regarding Clarkston cityhood, discussed by residents Cory Johnston and Michael Sabol for Clarkston411.com.
|From left, Clarkston News editor Phil Custodio hosts a discussion on Clarkston cityhood with Cory Johnston and Michael Sabol for Clarkston411.com. Photo by Trevor Keiser (click for larger version)|
For Johnston, the time has come for Clarkston to dissolve its city charter.
"Cityhood is a fine idea – control your own destiny, have your own government," Johnston said during the 36-minute discussion, Sept. 30 at The Clarkston News building. "The problem is, it hasn't worked."
Sabol agreed Clarkston has problems, but doesn't think dissolving the city solves them.
"If you have a broken toe, you don't cut off the leg," Sabol said. "We need to get the word out, and attack and address problems before we jump all over it and say, 'let's get rid of city.'"
Clarkston taxes residents at about 13 mills, while Independence Township levies about 8 mills in taxes. The city contracts with the township for fire protection, sewer and water, library, parks and recreation, and, as of last month, police service.
"I see no reason to get the same services and pay more money for them. It just doesn't make sense," Johnston said. "Anyone buying a house would pay a lot more taxes when they could buy the exact same house a block away in the township and get the same services."
For Sabol, identity is key, and Clarkston can have no identity without self determination.
"I don't want to see 819 registered voters diluted amongst 26,000 voters (in the township) who don't have same interest in this community," Sabol said. "It gives them too much control."
Sabol said petitioning to dissolve the city without adequate information is a hasty reaction to problems caused by the bad economy.
"Let's give both sides of the story, show the numbers," Sabol said. "I challenge city council to work to do things out in the open – there's still an opportunity to challenge the council and get them to work with us to figure this out."
But reform isn't likely – not enough people run for city council seats, even after a contentious millage issue this past August and disbanding Clarkston Police Department, Johnston said.
"I always encourage people to run for office," he said. "I pleaded for reform when I was on the council for four years, but nothing happened."
It's time to change, he said.
"I don't think we have the capacity or willpower do to what has to be done on our own," Johnston said.
Sabol, who filed a write-in campaign for city council, said dissolving the city would also mean loss of local control over zoning, roads, property values, and historic district, Sabol said.
"I don't want to turn these things over to anyone else," he said.
However, cityhood isn't needed to preserve the historical district, Johnston responded.
"It's a legal entity, it can act on its own," he said. "We do not need to pay taxes to be a community. Community is a group of people who want to live in a certain way and manner. We'd be better off looking at something different, something far more efficient, that can take money in taxes and use it to improve the community."
With a petition requiring a quarter of Clarkston voters, review by Oakland County, then votes in Clarkston as well as Independence Township, dissolving the city would take time and wouldn't be easy, Johnston said.
"It's a tough hurdle," he said. "It would take a large agreement of people."
Sabol said he will continue to oppose the effort.
"I'm here to engage whoever is interested in dissolving the city," he said.
The complete discussion is posted at www.Clarkston411.com. Call 248-625-3370 for more information.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.