Archived Story

County urged to put millage on ballot

Published 8:52pm Thursday, September 15, 2011

ST. JOSEPH — Officials with the Committee for Better Roads In Berrien County urged Berrien County commissioners to approve putting a county-wide road millage on the August or November 2012 ballot Thursday.
Berrien County Road Commission Manager Brian Berndt has been making presentations to local municipalities looking for their stamp of approval for putting the issue to vote.
Kevin Gillette, the chairperson of the committee and Lincoln Township trustee, said about 75 percent of the county’s municipalities have passed resolutions in favor of putting the measure to vote.
The six-year 0.5-mill levy, the first of its kind in the county since the 1960s, would generate $3.4 million a year to help construct, repair and preserve the 1,484 miles of road commission roads.
Berendt said declining revenues and an increase in material costs have nixed several road projects this year.
The budget crunch has led to the deterioration of many of the roads. A 2010 survey rated 39 percent of the roads in the county as poor, very poor or failed. The survey also revealed that it would cost $370 million to make all necessary road repairs and maintenance.
“It’s just a staggering number,” Berndt said, adding that the millage wouldn’t come close to making all the necessary repairs.
Gillette said the millage is needed since the state hasn’t increased its gas tax since 1997. The Michigan road tax is 19 cents per gallon.
Mac Elliott, 11th District commissioner, argued the millage would punish residents who own a significant amount of land, like farmers.
“There will be a significant number of individuals who will get a free ride,” Elliott said, referencing those who rent.
Gillette argued that owners of apartments would be levied and would raise their rent rates.
The Committee for Better Roads is hoping to get commissioners’ OK to put the issue on the ballot as soon as possible so it can begin to promote the measure and begin to raise funds for the effort.
If the millage passed, 60 percent of the funds generated in townships would stay in respective townships, while 40 percent would be used as matching funds for roads that qualify for federal funding in the township’s district. The county has been outlined into four districts for the millage.
Meanwhile, cities and villages in the county, which are responsible for their own roads, would keep 100 percent of the money generated from the millage in their area.
The millage would generate an estimated revenue of $178,412 for Niles Township and $104,780 for the City of Niles.

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