The next move: Uniopolis may place unincorporation on ballot

UNIOPOLIS — More than 80 people turned out for a special meeting Monday in Uniopolis to discuss lack of village funding and possibly unincorporating and becoming part of Union Township.

“What this is about is that we are running short on money to run the town,” Mayor Bill Rolston said. “We wanted to get feedback from the rest of the community.”

Uniopolis Village Council members called the meeting after learning federal funds for the municipality were cut 25 percent from last year for the already cash-strapped village, and state officials told them to expect a likely cut again next year.

Councilors agreed the village has two choices — either to approve a tax levy to help them run the village or to unincorporate.

Councilor Greg Ritchie did not think a tax levy was a wise choice and said he backed unicorporating the village. The village lost $25,000 in general fund money it would have used to run the village. With the village’s small size, a 1-mill property tax would raise only $2,637.21.

“We would have to have a 10-mill levy to raise the money we lost,” Ritchie said. “I don’t think that is realistic.”

Citizens brought up two primary concerns at the meeting, one being the cost of a police department and the other being concerns of zoning regulations the village would have.

Many thought the village could save money cutting police expenses, but the village had already cut police spending effective Jan. 1 of this year.

Village Solicitor Bob Fitzgerald informed the crowd that the cost of the police department was not the reason for the cash shortfall.

“The $13,000 for the police department isn’t what is making the difference here,” Fitzgerald said.

Sheriff Al Solomon, who was present at the meeting to answer questions, said he was not overly concerned with the financial strain caused if councilors decide to unincorporate. The Sheriff’s Office already provides much of the law enforcement for the village.

“Because of the limited amount of hours the village has been able to afford, we already provided a lot of coverage in this area,” Solomon said. “It would not cause any strain on the sheriff’s budget.”

If the village unincorporated, the county also would assume control of the village sewage treatment plant.

While Uniopolis does not enforce zoning, the township does have zoning regulations and a zoning inspector.

Some citizens voiced concerns with the higher cost of zoning permits in the township as compared to other townships due to its small population. Some townships have a permit fee as low as $50, while the current fee in Union Township is $750.

In addition to losing funds, councilors discussed decreasing population as another factor for possibly unincorporating the village. Village population dropped 13 percent drop, or 222 people, between 2000 to 2010.

“You have probably voted for more township trustees than you have council members,” Ritchie said. “The council has one empty seat now, and three of the five seats are appointed.”

Councilor Marilyn Fleck said she did not want to see the village lose its corporation status, but she couldn’t see any other choice.

“We have cut everything we can cut,” Fleck said. “We are meeting to pay the bills and that is about it. There isn’t any money to do anything else.”

The move would have to be placed on the ballot for a vote.

For a successful petition, it would require signatures from 40 percent of the residents who voted in the last election.

The last election count was estimated at 90, so approximately 36 signatures would be needed to put the measure on the ballot.

Fitzgerald said if done timely, it could be on the ballot by the November election.

Councilors agreed that they rather make the move sooner rather than later, in an effort to not compound the problem when municipalities take another hit next year.

Residents still have questions, but they felt they knew enough to know councilors have no other option but to unincorporated.

Resident Ronald Brackney summed up those feelings toward the end of the meeting, stating, “We are still here whether we are incorporated or not. We are still a community.”

“I have lived here for 60 years and it doesn’t bother me at all,” Don Webb said. “I’ve felt we should have done this a long time ago.”

Two Union Township  trustees, Dale Miller and Steve Severt, attended the meeting to hear what residents had to say.

“Do we want it, no,” Miller said after the meeting. “We are getting cuts too and we have enough problems of our own. We don’t want it but we have to work with them. If we don’t do it, it may happen anyhow. This way we can work with them.”

Severt agreed that the sooner it is done, if it is going to happen, the better.

“There are still a lot of questions on how the funding is going to go,” Severt said, “but we rather take over it before they get in a bigger hole.”