OKEMOS — The Michigan State Boundary Commission (SBC) approved the petition by Mersen USA of Greenville to be annexed from Eureka Township into the city of Greenville.
The final OK is pending the approval of the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs Steven H. Hilfinger.
Wednesday morning, representatives from the Mersen USA, the city of Greenville and Eureka Township gathered in Okemos for the SBC to decide on whether the Mersen USA property can be annexed into the city.
SBC Chairman Dennis Schornack explained the meeting would be held in three steps. The first step was the state commissioners questioning the parties involved. The second step was for parties to add information. The third step, after public comment, was for commissioners to discuss and make a decision on the petition and recommend it to the director.
The SBC is made up of three state boundary commissioners and two local commissioners.
William Beach, attorney for Mersen USA, stated General Manager Mitch Taylor was at the company’s headquarters in New Jersey awaiting news on Wednesday’s annexation ruling.
Beach explained there are some grants and funding available for Mersen to expand, and it was recommended that all the company’s property be within one governing entity before moving forward with the funding applications as Mersen would have a better chance at getting the funding.
Kristine Walls, Mersen controller, explained there are key elements the grant organizations look for when awarding their funding.
“Key elements like, does the location have to report to more than one jurisdiction?” Walls said. “That’s why we need forward movement on this as soon as possible.”
Beach agreed, saying everything has been completed correctly by Mersen to receive the annexation.
“There is no reason my client shouldn’t be awarded the annexation,” Beach said.
Greenville City Manager George Bosanic said the company needs the city’s services — such as water and sewer — and the city is willing to extend those utilities for an expansion that will employ more people.
“We lost 4,000 jobs in the past six years,” Bosanic said, noting after the expansion, some new employees would probably live within the township. “We wholeheartedly support the petition and can’t wait to get started.”
Greenville Attorney Rodney Schermer said he had nothing else to add and was relying on the documents the SBC received throughout the course of the proceedings.
Montcalm County Commissioner Ron Blanding said Greenville is unique because it is completely surrounded by the township except for a tiny section north of town.
“Many annexations (in the past) have been done through cooperation,” Blanding said. “Greenville can’t grow without the cooperation. There used to be more cooperation.”
Blanding gave examples from throughout the years of cooperative efforts the city had with the township including Klackle Orchards and Pavilion, but noted times have changed since new elected officials have stepped in.
“The township keeps opposing everything the city wants to do,” Blanding said. “It’s not a personal recommendation, but it’s very important to the city.”
Eureka Township Attorney Jeff Sluggett said the decision to annex the property should be considered with “urgency” in mind.
“This morning is the first time I have heard of specific plans for development,” Sluggett said of Mersen’s plan to expand. “This has not been said to us or the commission.”
At the annexation meeting on Feb. 14, Mersen officials explained they needed access to Greenville’s utilities for purposes of expansion. At that meeting, Taylor was quoted as saying, “We are 27 feet from the township/city line. When we expand, the township/city line would run through the manufacturing floor, which Mersen does not want to see happen.”
Looking back at the company’s history, Sluggett said expanding is something that could have been expected, but no specific plans have been presented.
“Is there a need now (for the annexation) or some point in the future?” Sluggett asked.
SBC Chairman Schornack said the Commission does not consider “urgency” when making decisions on petitions.
“We are indifferent to time,” he said, adding they look at a petition to see if it has met the criteria set by the SBC.
The other factor Sluggett requested to be considered are parcels on Backus Road, a residential dirt road that runs adjacent to some parcels being annexed.
“If the annexation goes through and includes the Backus Road properties, the township would lose control over that section of Backus Road,” Sluggett said. “The township would be responsible to pay for upgrades after Mersen uses them.”
Sluggett went on to ask the SBC to really consider what the township is asking.
“This is the first time we have heard of the significant need for expansion,” he said. “We encourage you to think long and hard of the Backus Road properties.”
State Commissioner James Stewart said he did not believe the damage to Backus Road would be an issue.
“It won’t be as bad as you think,” Stewart said. “I just don’t see (Mersen) going forward the way you have outlined given their history with the community.”
It was pointed out to the SBC that the Greenville truck route runs right by the company and the company would likely not make much use of Backus Road — if any at all.
“They have a truck route at their front door of the company,” Blanding said. “Why would they use Backus Road? I think they are just blowing smoke myself.”
The commissioners agreed if they were to exclude the Backus Road parcels, it would defeat Mersen’s purpose of getting all their property under the same jurisdiction.
State Boundary Commission
During public comment, two Eureka Township residents signed up to speak.
Mark Wilkin, chairman of the township’s planning commission, chose not to speak as everything he wanted to say was said during the meeting.
Duane Putnam, the township’s zoning board of appeals chair, stated he did not think the township was holding the company back from expanding. He said the company could still stay in the township and use the city’s utilities if the city would have been a “good neighbor.”
“The township needs those tax dollars,” Putnam said.
After hearing the public comment, Schornack wanted to go over everything that was presented to the commission, as he said the implication has made that the commission does not thoroughly look at the materials that were presented.
“I want to go through it so people know we have (gone through it),” he said.
Schornack worked through the paperwork and verbally highlighted all the high points of the cases presented.
According to the documents presented, Schornack stated the township would only be losing just over $158 a year if the property was annexed.
“Is no one disputing that number,” he asked. No one present refuted that fact.
Eureka Township Zoning Administrator Thomas Faussett said they would lose more once the business expands because property values would go up and they would lose that tax revenue.
“That is the real issue,” Faussett said.
Schornack said he wanted to dispute that statement and said he believes by the property getting annexed, all parties would be winners.
“Both the city and township are winners,” he explained. “New employees could chose to live in the township.”
Schornack made the motion to support the annexation and Blanding seconded the motion. The board approved the annexation to be presented to the director for signing.
“(The petition) has been presented properly,” Stewart said. “There is no purpose in delaying the action — I am in favor of the motion.”
Schornack said the SBC commission will recommend the annexation to the director during its Aug. 13 meeting. From there, if the director approves, the property will be formally annexed into the city.
There has only been one time, Schornack said, the director has overturned the SBC recommendation, and he does not foresee that happening in this case.
“All of our I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed,” Schornack said.