Public safety, municipal improvements among Berrien County millage proposals

NOW: Public safety, municipal improvements among Berrien County millage proposals

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. -- Michigan’s state primary wasn’t just focused on candidates for Congress and the state House, some important millages were also on the ballot this year.

There were a total of 30 proposals on ballots across Berrien County. One, to reallocate funds lost in New Buffalo Township. Another, to renew the county’s public safety millage despite the sheriff’s departments request to increase those funds.

The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department had been coordinating with county commissioners to increase the public safety millage, adding roughly $800,000 a year, the first time the millage would be increased since it started in 1984.

Those plans were then halted by county commissioners due to the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 hit and we didn’t know what the budget process would be or how much money would be used to take care of everything that we’re doing, they decided that they wouldn’t go for the increase this time,” said Sheriff Paul Bailey.

While the public safety millage already funds the sheriff’s department, drug team, and courts in Berrien County, the additional money would have helped expand the drug enforcement team.

“Part of our problem, which every county has is drugs continue to cause issues,” said Sheriff Bailey. 

In New Buffalo Township, officials hoped voters would approve an additional millage, over a 20 year period, to reallocate funds lost from the Headlee Amendment.

That amendment has gradually reduced millages since its enactment in 1978. 

“It really needs to be self-supporting, so we want to bump our operating millage up to one mill, which townships are allowed to levy,” said Michelle Heit, New Buffalo Township supervisor.

New Buffalo Township has been supplementing those lost funds with revenue sharing from Four Winds Casino, but it still doesn’t generate enough to deal with major beach erosion, road repairs and more.

“We’ve been operating on a very small millage, probably the smallest in the county and those percentages go down – the money we get from the LRSB [Local Revenue Sharing Board] – per the local agreement with the tribes,” said Heit.

Despite not having the extra funding on the millage proposal, Sheriff Bailey said this helps the county stay in strong financial standing this year, as they brace for the COVID-19 aftermath.

“I think we’re going to be fine because we’ll be getting [money] back from the CARES Act and the county is in a good financial state,” said Bailey. “I think we’re going to make it through this okay.”

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