LAGRANGE — Officials from the village of LaGrange and LaGrange Township sat down face-to-face Wednesday evening during a special public meeting to try to come to a resolution on whether the village would secede from the township.
While nothing may have been resolved, the two sides walked away hoping to salvage the partnership between the two entities.
The village has claimed that its residents pay about $50,000 to $70,000 of inside millage each year to the township, but the residents don’t see any benefits from those taxes. Township leaders have disputed the figures of how much inside millage village residents pay.
Another issue has been who will handle the responsibility of maintenance at the cemetery on West Main Street on the west end of the village. While the township has handled burials and the maintenance of the cemetery for years, both sides learned last year from the state that it’s the village that is responsible for maintaining the cemetery.
LaGrange Village Council has been considering the possibility of seceding from the township for years.
“The relationship over the past three or four has been fractured,” Councilman Rick Honer said. “All these little things start to become agitating. What happened to cooperation? Now it’s more like nickels and dimes. Instead of working together, it’s like how can I get my money back and your money to you? That’s been one of the biggest issues.”
While the village has several issues with the township, Village Council has agreed to “drop everything” and not secede if the township takes over maintenance of the cemetery again, “having things go back to the way they were,” Village Council President Gary Kincannon told the township trustees. The village said that would at least give village residents something for the inside millage they pay.
But two of the three LaGrange Township trustees said village residents already get something for that money.
“I’ve tried to look at things the village and township have done together,” Trustee Doug Gardner said. “I feel the village came out getting a really fair value for that inside millage.”
One trustee, though, dissented from his colleagues on the board of trustees.
“I disagree with my two colleagues, but it’s my own opinion,” Trustee Gary Burnett said. “I would like to take the cemetery back, personally, and go back to the way things were. I do not want to separate. Some people want to, but I don’t. If we do, we’re going to have a year of trying to figure out the ambulance and fire. What are we going to do there?”
If the village would secede from the township, the residents of the village would no longer have fire and EMS service, which is handled by the township’s fire department. The two sides have discussed either creating a fire district to serve the township and village or the village could enter into a contract to receive service from the township’s department.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the trustees repeatedly stated that the cooperation between the two sides is a benefit of the inside millage paid by village residents. LaGrange Mayor Kim Strauss said the cooperation doesn’t have to end if the village secedes.
“We don’t have to pay for cooperation,” Strauss said. “Cooperation can be done whether we are together or apart. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. I feel like it keeps coming up. Are you saying that we have to keep paying that money to have the cooperation?
“I’m not paying for cooperation. That cooperation can and should continue. We don’t have to pay for it, but we have to justify to our residents.”
The township trustees agreed to consider taking over the maintenance of the cemetery if the village continues to provide a full-time employee, while the township will provide a part-time employee, to maintain LaGrange Community Park, which is one of the partnerships the two sides have entered over the years.
Some residents spoke during the meeting saying they felt it was inevitable that the two sides will split.
Assistant County Prosecutor Gerald Innes, who was at the meeting representing the township, warned against secession.
“If you split, it’s not like you take your ball and just go home. It’s more like a divorce,” he said. “Anyone who’s been through a divorce knows you never end up better afterward. This is going to be an ugly thing. It’s going to be horrible to try and figure out what we have to do because these folks have trusted each other and done things on handshake deals, which is great. It’s going to make it really tough, though. It’s going to be a nightmare trying to figure out how we split everything up, like a divorce.”