(New Buffalo, MI) - Another effort is being waged to remove from office the mayor of New Buffalo, who survived a recall attempt last year.
New Buffalo resident and business owner John Taylor has filed a recall petition to oust John Humphrey, who’s in the third year of his four-year term on the city council.
Humphrey has been appointed mayor by the city council in each of his first three years of his term.
Taylor said the recall attempt is over the “enormous” increase last year in water and sewer rates in the city. Residents, on average, have witnessed about a 50-percent increase in their bi-monthly bills.
“This is just one more issue that clearly demonstrates his inability to be in the position that he is in,” Taylor said.
The Berrien County Election Board has scheduled a hearing for May 31st at 2 p.m. to decide whether to approve or reject the language on the recall petition.
The language would be the reason cited on the ballot when voters are asked to decide whether to retain or recall Humphrey.
If the language is approved, a required number of signatures from registered voters in New Buffalo would have to be obtained and validated by the election board for a special election to be called.
Taylor helped gather signatures during last year’s recall attempt over Humphrey’s support of a ban on more short term rentals in residential areas of the city. The number of validated signatures, though, fell short of what was required for a special election to be held.
Taylor said he’s optimistic about meeting the signature requirement this time because he and other detractors of Humphrey are more familiar with the process and plan to start approaching people on a list of who signed last year’s recall petition.
“It makes our job significantly easier because we’re going to revisit those individuals. I think we’ll be successful,” he said.
Humphrey said most of the rate hike is from increasing the ready to serve fee on sewer service from $14 to $60.
He said the increase was needed because rates hadn’t been raised enough since the late 1990’s to keep up with the city’s share of the rising cost for operating and maintaining the waste water treatment plant.
“We have fixed it to protect the long term sustainability of our sewer system. People need to understand that,” he said.
New Buffalo, New Buffalo Township, Chikaming Township, Lake Township and Bridgman form the Galien River Sanitary District, which operates and maintains the plant also serving Weesaw Township.
Humphrey said the city’s fund used for plant operation and maintenance had more than $300,000 in red ink annually in recent years because of inflation outpacing the amount collected in sewer fees.
Property tax revenue was allocated to cover the yearly sewer fund deficits, he said.
Humphrey said the sewer fund now has a surplus, which frees up property tax dollars serving the debt to go toward roads and other projects in the city.
He also said removing him from office will not lower the water and sewer rates.
“That’s the bottom line,” he said.
Humphrey claimed the same people involved in the previous recall petition are behind the most recent effort to remove him from office for personal reasons that include the new restrictions on short term rentals.
He also vowed to review every signature on the recall petition and challenge every one they believe is not legitimate.
“I think the public has had it with this group of people and I think you’re going to see a lot more public push back against this recall,” he said.