Acton Institute Powerblog

Self-Sufficiency in Sand Lake

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This is a really intriguing story about a small community beset by an unfriendly local tax environment, “Sand Lake civil war: Move to dissolve village comes down to taxes.”

The village government of Sand Lake, Michigan, is threatened with dissolution. As you might expect, those facing the chopping block are crying foul.

How’s this for overblown rhetoric? “This is domestic terrorism. It’s an attack on small town USA. I have a personal anger against these people. Their purpose is not the good of the village,” says village president Kirk Thielke.

Just imagine the carnage, the horror: “There are just so many things that aren’t being considered. No one would plow our parking lots. Who would do leaf pickup?”

What do the proponents of the ballot measure to “disincorporate” Sand Lake have to say?

“We used to shovel on our own. We could all put in and hire someone to do it. It would cost a lot less. And the same thing with the leaves,” contends Toni Bush, 60, an owner of a local bar and a 40-year resident of Sand Lake.

Self-sufficiency rather than dependence on bloated local government sounds pretty good to me. And I do hope that, as one commenter notes, this is a “harbinger” of things facing local governments across this nation.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • James Ernest

    Jordan, I assume you’re aware of the move to consolidate local governments in the GR area into one larger city? If that happens and Caledonia township is included, I assume our little Village of Caledonia will go away. But I for one would sorely miss Roger’s rounds through our neighborhood to scrape snow and remove brushpiles. (See? We know his name!) And call me cynical, but somehow I doubt that getting rid of micro-local government by creating larger macro-local government would really produce a net decrease in taxatation.

  • Dr. Ernest,

    I’m not aware of that larger conversation. But certainly compared to the millage levels in Sand Lake, Caledonia hardly qualifies as “bloated.” Surely no one wants to get rid of Roger. But maybe he could open his own business?

    I actually had in mind my own town (surprise, surprise). Wyoming is GR’s largest suburb and we just passed a millage increase. I get a little tired of the same claim each election: if you don’t pass the millage we’ll have to cut fire and police. Meanwhile we’ve got a number of “dedicated” millages to things other than fire and police. And sure, property values are down right now…but are those millages going to go away on the (admittedly small) chance that property values go back up?

    It took me quite awhile to get used to the city plowing my sidewalks in the winter…something we did for ourselves in other places we lived.

    In any case, I agree that the Sand Lake situation isn’t as such going to be easily translatable into all other local contexts. But more generally, I’d love to see people relying more on themselves and their neighbors, at least as first resort, rather than governments (of any size).

  • James Ernest

    > It took me quite awhile to get used to the city plowing my sidewalks in the winter…something we did for ourselves in other places we lived.

    Wow. Yeah, we shovel our own walks–Roger just does the streets.

  • Marc Vander Maas

    I’m sympathetic to the argument that small, local units of government have value; very sympathetic, in fact. And I think that James is right to be skeptical of claims that incorporating multiple localities into a sort of super-city would actually decrease costs to taxpayers.

    On the whole, though, I have to side with the disincorporationists on this one, just because I’m most sympathetic to the idea that governments are formed to serve the needs of a community, and the community has the right to dissolve the government that it formed if the majority feels that it no longer effectively meets the need it was set up to address.

    “…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    I’d also like credit for coining the phrase “disincorporationists.”