Montcalm County group narrows millage effort to conservation and 4-H

By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 3:52 pm on Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Montcalm County millage proposal group on Tuesday heard from Robert “Bob” Van Lente of Portland, who has helped run multiple election campaigns in Ionia County. The millage group has narrowed its focus to raising funds from five community services to two: Conservation and 4-H. — Daily News/Elisabeth Waldon

STANTON — A Montcalm County millage effort to fund five community services has been narrowed down to two: Conservation and 4-H.

Animal Control, parks and recreation and veterans were initially part of the discussion which began in January, but representatives from those three organizations have since dropped out (animals and veterans officially, parks and rec unofficially).

Seven people attended an informational meeting Tuesday afternoon at the Montcalm Conservation District office in Stanton to continue exploring the possibility of putting a proposal on the ballot during a primary election. The meeting’s featured guest was Robert “Bob” Van Lente of Portland, a retired auto parts salesman who has helped run multiple election campaigns in Ionia County.

Van Lente presented the group with valuable information about how to get a grassroots ballot proposal up and running. His advice was offered for free — he says he and a handful of friends volunteer with community campaigns simply because they love the process.

Van Lente recommended the group follow this timeline: Elect officers, choose a name and mailing address, file with the state of Michigan, open a bank account, start raising seed money among group members, estimate funds that could be raised, research campaign and petition requirements, define the proposed millage and distribution, raise funds (via mail and phone), generate publicity about the proposal and design a campaign to fit the budget.

He also recommended the group find a local attorney who would volunteer time to help with the cause, and the group should create a Facebook page to spread awareness of the millage effort.

Van Lente showed the audience a qualified voter list from 2016 via a Microsoft Excel program to explain how the group could target likely voters. He narrowed the database of 41,468 registered voters in Montcalm County down to 7,506 people who voted in the last three primary elections. He then focused on absentee voters who voted in at least four of the last elections, narrowing the list again down to 2,247 people.

“It’s a big community and you probably can’t afford to address the entire community,” Van Lente noted. “Some members of the community, frankly, don’t vote, so why would you waste money on people who don’t vote? Absentee voters are hardcore voters in the sense that they’ve gone the extra mile to vote. So are primary voters.”

Montcalm County Conservation District Director Judy Cloer said she continues to receive mixed feedback from residents about the millage effort.

“People come in and talk to me and say, ‘I hear you’re trying for a millage, well, I’m not going to vote for it because it’s a millage,’” she shared.

“From what I can tell, they want to associate you with the county and their recent mishaps,” district conservationist Jeremy Sova noted.

“All of the previous ballot proposals have gone through the county Board of Commissioners and we still want to avoid that,” Wyckoff reiterated. “Nothing has changed with that.”

This statement contradicted a claim made during Monday morning’s Montcalm County Economic Development & Physical Resources Committee meeting. Commissioner Betty Kellenberger mentioned the millage group was still waiting to hear whether the county’s parks and rec program wanted to be included in the millage effort.

“They don’t particularly want commissioner involvement,” Kellenberger noted.

“That philosophy has changed dramatically,” Commissioner John Johnson declared. “That issue was a concern of the Open Meetings Act and it’s no longer an issue.”

However, Wyckoff told The Daily News after Tuesday’s millage meeting that commissioner involvement remains a problem due to the county’s ongoing financial investigation.

“Nothing has changed with us distancing ourselves from the Board of Commissioners,” Wyckoff said.

The next millage effort meeting will be 4:30 p.m. May 2, location to be determined. Email Wyckoff at for more information.

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