Citizens must decide fate of village

ROGERS – Village Council has learned any voluntary effort to dissolve the village would take the form of a ballot issue and need voter approval.

That was the message delivered last week by Dave Thompson, assistant chief of local government services for the state auditor’s office. He had been invited to the meeting by Councilman Mike Hunt to explain the process for dissolving the struggling village, should it come to that.

Thompson said only a citizen-initiated petition drive seeking dissolution of Rogers is allowed, with such a petition needing signatures from at least 40 percent of the village’s registered voters who voted in the last election to get on the ballot. There are only 237 residents in the village.

If the voters agreed to dissolve the village, council would begin the process of selling and disposing of its assets, after which Rogers would become part of Middleton Township. The money from the sale of these assets would go to paying debts, including $57,000 owed for state audits dating back about 10 years, with the remaining assets transferred to the township.

The process can take anywhere from four months to over a year, depending on the complexity of village operations. “The village doesn’t go away in one day,” Thompson said.

He indicated the winding down of operations in Rogers would be less complicated because it has no water or sewer service. In fact, street lights are the only service residents would no longer receive if the village merged with the township, but Thompson said the people in Rogers could approve creating a light district, where they would be assessed a fee for keeping the street lights on.

“If that’s something important to you, that’s something that can be worked out,” he said.

Should Rogers dissolve, the new operating levy passed several years ago by voters would go away, as would the other village taxes. Residents would then begin paying whatever township taxes are assessed.

Thompson has been involved in many successful dissolution processes, some initiated by angry citizens and others by village councils, who ask citizens to circulate petitions on their behalf. The latter usually occurs because of community apathy and inability to get people to serve on council and approve new taxes to provide extra revenue to keep the community functioning.

Although Rogers appears to be in decent shape financially, ending 2013 with a $20,000 balance after spending only $46,000 last year, village Fiscal Officer Dale Davis said they currently have only $1,700 in the general fund. The largest balance is in the now defunct mayor’s court computer fund and would probably need a court order to be transferred to the general fund.

Thompson said the state auditor’s office could dissolve the village, but this would require Rogers being declared in fiscal emergency and he does not know if they qualify at this point.

Should Rogers be placed in fiscal emergency, a five-year financial recovery plan would be drafted, and the state could decide to dissolve the village if it was unable to comply with terms of the recovery plan.

“So what you’re saying is as long as we’re able to pay our bills, we’ll be fine,” Hunt said.

Ultimately, the citizens will decide the fate of the village, by either voting to dissolve Rogers or approving new taxes to provide additional services, Thompson said.

There was only one citizen in the audience at the meeting, and he was there to address council on another issue.

“The people who need to hear this are the people who aren’t here,” Thompson said

“That’s the problem,” said Councilwoman Jayne Balmenti.

The feeling among the majority of council is they would like to keep the village operating and expand services, such as reinstating the police department instead of relying on the county sheriff’s office and highway patrol. To do this, council has contemplated enacting a village income tax or hiring a company to operate a traffic camera system. In fact, a representative from the traffic-camera company, Optotraffic, has been invited back to council’s March 10 meeting.