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Vote could determine future of Richland Village

RICHLAND, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Tensions and accusations are rising as special vote approaches that could determine the future of Richland Village.

Both Richland Township and Village residents will be able to vote on whether or not the Village can continue to exist.

"Shall incorporation of the Village of Richland be vacated?" is the precise wording on the ballot.

Just two weeks before the May 3 vote, Newschannel 3's I-Team is learning that a complaint has been filed against the Village.

The complaint was filed by Robert Perks, a village resident who supports dissolving the village and merging with Richland Township.

In it, he alleges the Village government is violating election laws by sending out a mailer that he says is being used to influence the outcome of the election.

The mailer showcases 3 ballot measures, but for the Village ballot measure, it references all the services that would be eliminated if the Village dissolves.

Perks said that list won't appear on the ballot, and said it's clearly a way to for Village to influence the vote.

"I think to use the resources of the public the way they're doing it is unfair," he said,

Perks said based on his reading of election law, he thinks it's potentially illegal.

In a phone interview with Newschannel 3, Village President Dave Greve said that flyers were perfectly legal, and only state facts.

The last time residents of Richland faced a ballot measure to potentially dissolve the government was in 2001, and the measure was defeated.

Former Village Council Member Robert Brinkerhoff disagrees with the idea of dissolving the village.

"I'm concerned that issues like this are more divisive than anything," he said.

Brinkerhoff is currently a member of Preserve Richland Village, a group organizing to counter what it says is false information being provided by Reclaim Richland, a group advocating the dissolution.

"There's no free lunch," he said, referring to Reclaim Richland's arguments about the cost of taxes and services in the Village.

"All the people who live here in the village willingly pay their taxes and they make that decision when they move here because that's a great place to live," he added.

Some in Richland have criticized the high cost.

In 2014 an I-Team investigation showed the approximately 750 people making up the Village, paying more than most per person in West Michigan for public safety and other services.

"We have 3 full time police officers right now," said Perks, who supports Reclaim Richland, insisting that job could easily be handled by Kalamazoo County Sheriff's Office.

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said there's some truth to that notion, adding the Sheriff's Office already helps with the Village to some extent, but the details aren't quite that simple over the long haul.

"It depends on the level of service they would require," Fuller said.

Fuller added if the Township decided to have a Sheriff presence there 24/7, that it would probably come at an increased cost.

As for the complaint filed with the Michigan Department of State, a staffer there tells Newschannel 3 the Bureau of Elections will be looking it over and deciding whether or not to investigate at some point next week.

A public forum will be held Thursday at 7:00 at the Richland Township Hall to answer questions about the upcoming vote on May 3rd.

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