Municipalities backing millagePublished 10:29pm Thursday, June 23, 2011
Most of Berrien County’s 39 municipalities are showing support for putting a county-wide road millage proposal on the August 2012 ballot.
Twenty-nine of the county’s 39 municipality boards have approved resolutions in support of putting the proposal before voters, Berrien County Road Commission Manager Brian Berndt said Thursday.
Although the county commissioners will have the final say as to whether the proposal hits the ballots, road commission officials several months ago asked local boards to consider passing resolutions supporting it.
The proposed millage, the first of its kind in the county since the 1960s, is a half-mill, six-year levy that would generate $3.4 million a year to help maintain roads.
The commission has already had to cancel two road projects this year, including a resurfacing project on Bertrand Road. Three other projects could also be on the chopping block if the commission can’t come up with matching funds for federal grant money.
In a report to Berrien County Commissioners in April, Berndt said materials costs have increased by more than $1 million since 2004, while expenses have risen $3.1 million.
The road commission is funded by the Michigan gas tax and licensing fees. But with high gas prices and more people leaving the state, those funds are decreasing, Berndt said.
The City of Niles, Niles Township, the City of Buchanan and Buchanan Township have all passed resolutions supporting a county-wide vote on the issue.
But some local officials have reservations.
Officials, like Niles Township Treasurer Jim Ringler and County Commissioner Mac Elliott, have spoken out against the proposal. They argue that as a property tax, it hurts property owners more than apartment dwellers, even though they both probably use county roads.
“Ideally an increase in the gas tax would be best,” Berndt said, but added that with a tax increase not on the horizon, something needs to be done to keep the roads from falling apart.
A recent study rated 200 of the county’s 1,483 miles of road in “poor condition.”
Seventeen counties in Michigan currently have road millages.
“It’s not like it’s the only one that has ever been considered,” Berndt said.
If the proposal is placed on the ballot, the road commission will circulate information packets for each community outlining which projects could be funded by the millage, Berndt said.
“We want to be completely transparent,” he said.