Archived Story

Niles City Council blasts Berrien board

Published 9:06pm Monday, August 13, 2012

 

Berrien County’s Aug. 9 discussion of options to address infrastructure needs of animal control and the health department looks like the opening salvo in rekindling the dormant war between North and South.

City Council Monday night gave Niles Commissioner Zach Perkins plenty of reaction to deliver to St. Joseph on Thursday.

“One of the primary reasons they want to relocate the court and prosecutor’s office to North County is to overload North County and further demonstrate the need for this campus they want to build,” Mayor Michael McCauslin said. “We get very little return on the money in the county portion of our taxes. We’re like the bastard stepchild down here — I’m serious — that doesn’t get anything. For most of my tenure as mayor, North County receives the bulk of everything and South County is pooh-poohed away like we don’t exist.”

“It’s lose-lose,” Councilman Dan VandenHeede said. “We’d love to have more services down here. We’ve lost jury selection, Register of Deeds. We’ve got one judge compared to eight in St. Joseph. I’m strongly in favor of fighting to keep what we have. What about our costs if police officers have to be away from their duties here to go to court in St. Joseph?”

City Administrator Ric Huff said, instead of one van bringing inmates for court appearances, the police department may end up sending multiple police cars to St. Joseph every day.

“We’re always carrying the burden of paying more taxes, then we’re not getting services,” Councilwoman Georgia Boggs said.

“It’s ignorant not to buy property in the middle of the county when you talk about a campus,” Councilman Scott Clark said. “If you’re going to put everything in one place, it should be in the middle of the county — not 40 miles from here. The tail’s wagging the dog. The problem with government today is having people without business experience making business decisions. It’s like the federal government. We send our money there and never see it again.”

County Administrator Bill Wolf outlined possibilities for the board of commissioners to mull while developing a 2013 budget, such as building a “campus” over the next 15 to 20 years on Napier near Lake Michigan College.

“One new idea was triggered by the state taking jury selection away from us,” Perkins said. “They do all jury selection up at the St. Joseph courthouse. We expect the prosecutor’s office to show us where they will be able to save money if they consolidate operations up north, which is a reduction of service down here I’m personally not happy with.”

The Health Department has five facilities scattered around Benton Harbor.

The county has socked away almost $2 million for a new animal facility to replace the obsolete 1950s Berrien Township pound.

Wolf’s presentation detailed rising maintenance costs of aging buildings, substandard work conditions, increased liability, inefficient use of personnel and increased costs caused by the redundancies required at dispersed locations.

Berrien County several years ago acquired 48 acres along Napier Avenue in Benton Township. Bought for $725,000, the land west of LMC was meant to provide a site large enough for new county buildings as need dictated in decades to come.

Wolf estimated the cost of constructing animal control and health department facilities at $10.7 million to $13.7 million.

A second option would be purchasing 26 adjacent acres with two large buildings leased by Tyler Honda, moving to a new home in Lincoln Township.

Existing structures could be remodeled for animal control and the health department at a projected cost of $7.3 million to $8.3 million with future space for Berrien Bus. The campus concept would necessitate a bond issue.

Shuffling various county functions into other available spaces in phases is a third possibility. That entails moving environmental health from M-139 in Benton Township to the Niles courthouse. The M-139 building could be converted to animal control. The old pound becomes a stable and corral.

The circuit court and prosecutor’s office shift to St. Joseph opens space for health department administration to move from Pipestone Street in Benton Harbor.

North Berrien health department services would be consolidated at the Pipestone administration building.

District court would stay in the South County Building.

Total cost for consolidation is pegged at $1.9 million. Some or all of the 48 acres could be shed to further trim costs. A drawback is abandonment of the campus concept. Remodeled structures would have shorter longevity than new facilities. There could be longer commutes for health department workers.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Jan Personette

    Well, here we go again. Another round of shaft the voters and public of South County. From what I was told they want to change the Health Department office here in Niles to administration and take the services out of this office. That would mean that those who receive WIC benefits would have to drive about 30 miles to sign up for those benefits. Those are the people who can’t afford to drive, or don’t have a car and must pay someone for the ride to the office. It is time that those who are elected to listen to our voices (or petition to have term limits on those offices)and put the populace in mind instead of their own interests. Perhaps the wisdom of the founders who put the county seat in Berrien Springs should be revisited and put county offices in a central location instead of in the North end of the county. Or better yet, perhaps we should break up the county into two parts and form another county so our representation could be better. At the very least, we should take a few minutes and send letters with our opinions to all the commissioners at 701 Main Street St. Joseph, MI 49085. Let’s tell them all what we think about the continued shaft of all of South County. The pen is still mightier than the sword, so we need to use it. I, for one, am extremely tired of being given the shaft because the board of commissioners thinking that the county ends a few miles south of Benton Harbor/Saint Joseph.

  • Jeanette Pearson

    South County has lost so much as it is. We lost Dept. of Human Resources (DHS) 2002 which left a hardship on many people.

    We are required to pay tax’s so North County can enjoy the benefits, I don’t think so. We need to write letters and go to the Board meeting an voice our opinion.

    What else will they take from us if we don’t stand up and voice our opinion?

  • NILES53

    Seems we have a problem here. Most is simple to fix. Start by getting rid of the crooked politics. I.e. Ric Huff, Scott Clark and Georgia Boggs. Then you put together a group of “TAX” paying citizens (Scott Clark this is where you have to sit out) then you sit down and make educated decisions (Ric Huff this is where you sit out.btw how is divorced life treating you??)and take them back to all the residents and come up with a logical solution (Georgia Boggs this is where you sit out)This could work for all parts of the county if it is done with logical thinking. I think the city has a good point about sending multiple units there a day but we could change that by making a standard schedule. Our city wastes so much money on little things and does nothing about the big things we face. I DO HAVE A FEW BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT OUR CITY COUNSEL MEMBER SCOTT CLARK…. SO YOU INDICATED THAT YOU SOLD YOUR SHOP TO EMPLOYEES SO YOU COULD GET BACK ON THR CITY COUNSEL, WHEN IS THIS TO HAPPEN AND HOW MUCH MORE TAX MONEY DO WE GET TO SPEND AT YOUR PLACE BEFORE THIS HAPPENS? NEXT QUESTION… HOW IS IT THAT YOU HAVE BEEN BROUGHT UP ON FEDERAL CHARGES THROUGH THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION AND YOU CAN STILL BE ON THE CITY COUNSEL?? YOU HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM ALL POLICE ROTATION LISTS AND YOUR TRUCKS HAVE BEEN PUT OUT OF SERVICE AND YOU STILL FIND THAT IT IS OK TO DRIVE THEM????? YOU ARE ABOVE THE LAW!!

  • Sam

    Sounds like someone has an issue with the niles city COUNCIL. That is the educated way to spell council, not counsel. Why would you bash the city for wanting to keep services in niles and the south county? Are you to ignorant to want niles to lose services that the residents use? As for your questions to Mr. Clark why don’t you ask him your self or go to a council meeting and ask your questions. Last I checked there is no conflict of interest with his elected seat and the service of police vehicles any longer. That’s what the only issue was about. The city has their own “garage” now for simple repairs. Go to a council meeting and get facts about issues instead of bashing the council on the daily star. Lol. This article and issue was about the city council sticking up for the city. It’s not like the city wants these services we have here to go away. Do you want to drive to st joe if you have a simple issue that could be addressed here in niles, I know I would rather handle the issue here. You would probably be the first to complain about going to st joe, then blame the city for letting it happen.

  • David Mann

    I think it is unfortunate that individuals make such comments as one of the ones listed above. Mr. Clark is a dedicated public servant and he never would use his influence unfairly to benefit himself. Furthermore, Mr. Huff is one of the best city administrators we have ever had. His knowledge of government is unparalleled.

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