Archived Story

Berrien County levies park millage

Published 9:39pm Monday, October 15, 2012

ST. JOSEPH — A new four-year dedicated property tax with a dual purpose passed the Berrien County Board of Commissioners 9-4 Thursday.

P.A. 90 of 1913 grants counties discretionary authority to adopt up to .25 of a mill without a public vote.

Berrien County wants to levy .1 mill, which would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $5 per year.

The $695,000 generated would relieve budget pressure on the general fund, provide a funding mechanism to continue developing Galien River Park and develop a brownfield into a new Watervliet waterfront park.

Commissioners are considering swapping the bit bigger tax bite for lower entry fees to enter the county’s four parks, Rocky Gap in Benton Township, Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, Love Creek Nature Center in Berrien Center and Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles.

The parks’ fund surplus has been drawn down to $220,000. Spending a proposed $178,820 in fiscal 2013 leaves $41,180.

The 2013 budget calls for a general fund appropriation of $170,264 — savings which could reduce the need for further public safety cuts.

Over the four-year life, there would be $1.175 million general fund savings.

Just to maintain status quo, revenue levels will take $307,900 from the general fund by 2014. More than $100,000 in maintenance has been deferred, and there is another $100,000 in machinery replacement needs.

Developing Galien River Park is pegged at $125,000, plus another $50,000 designated for Silver Beach improvements.

“Galien and Watervliet are being modeled on Rocky Gap, where there would be free public access,” County Administrator Bill Wolf said.

Another component of the plan is incorporating the environmental affairs fund, which encompasses household hazard waste collection and recycling at Southeast and Orchard Hills landfills and at a dedicated New Buffalo Township site, into the parks system.

“We can make our recycling efforts a whole lot more efficient if we operate out of our facilities, with geographic distribution throughout the county,” Wolf said.

Its special fund balance ending 2012 is $1.12 million, of which $295,000 is proposed to be spent in the coming year.

At that rate, the balance will be depleted by 2016.

By 2016-17, maintaining parks services and recycling programs could cost the general fund $644,000.

Parks Director Brian Bailey said vehicle attendance figures show 25,000 non-residents exceeded 10,000 Berrien County residents, which doesn’t reflect walk-ins.

“What this will do for us is to immediately relieve a $170,000 burden on the general fund to support county parks,” Wolf said. “Taking some of the load off the general fund means not digging quite so deep in remaining department cuts, such as the sheriff.”

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