Archived Story

Berrien voters may see 3 millage requests

Published 5:42pm Thursday, May 10, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — Three millage proposals will likely face Berrien County voters on the Aug. 7 primary ballot, including an increase for the 911 emergency system.

Voters first approved a .2-mill 911 emergency dispatch millage in the fall of 1985.

The current .25 mill was set Aug. 8, 1996.

The purpose of the request is to continue the ability to quickly dispatch police, fire and ambulance first responders to emergencies, regardless of whether the call for help comes by landline or cellular device.

The administration committee discussed the four-year proposal boosting the .25 mill collected the past 16 years to .45 mill (45 cents per $1,000 taxable value) from 2013 to 2016 with County Administrator Bill Wolf Thursday morning, but the full board of commissioners will consider the issue May 24.

Wolf said the county consists of 80,000 parcels, compared to some 100,000 devices.

A .2-mill increase would cost an additional $10 per year for a $100,000 house with a $50,000 taxable value, or $22.50 annually for the entire .45 mill.

Commissioners began moving toward “true” central dispatch in April 2005, when Berrien County had five Public-Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs. Fall’s anticipated transfer of 911 responsibilities from the City of St. Joseph (following Benton Charter Township and the City of Benton Harbor) to Berrien County leaves two, with the City of Niles backup 911 dispatch center if Berrien County experiences a service interruption. A direct result of this consolidation was increasing required staffing from 17 to 30. Niles receives an annual amount comparable to 2.5 employees for its backup role.

The law lets the commission ask voters to approve a monthly surcharge, or user fee, on landlines and mobile devices. To generate the same amount of revenue would mean boosting the current surcharge, 42 cents a device per month, 68 cents to $1.10.

Commissioner John LaMore of Niles Township said his personal situation, with a landline and he and his wife each carrying cell phones, would be a “no-brainer” between a $10 increase or $24 with a surcharge.

It costs $3.2 million to maintain the emergency dispatch center in 2012. Those costs are expected to climb 3.5 percent to 4.1 percent per year, 2014-2017. Taxable value on which Berrien County taxes are collected is dropping. For the first time in memory, the amount of tax collected will dip even while the millage rate stays the same. A gap of $482,900 is anticipated for 2013 — $5.1 million over four years.

Current millage for one more year plus the proposed increase are seen generating $4.79 million more over the next five years, or less than needs projected at $5.6 million. The board would direct staff to cut costs.

Up for renewal would be .35 mill for county law enforcement and public safety, first approved in 1982. It would raise $2,431,709 the first of four years.

The other renewal is for continued operation of seven senior centers. The .30 mill would generate $2.1 million the first of four years.

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