Archived Story

Berrien asking half-mill for roads

Published 7:40pm Thursday, October 25, 2012


Berrien’s only countywide issue on the Nov. 6 ballot asks for a half mill for six years to heal deteriorating roads.

A half-mill will generate $2.6 million for townships and $800,000 for cities and villages annually starting in 2013.

The millage means $37.50 more per year for a property owner of a home with $75,000 taxable value ($150,000 market value), or $100 more for a $200,000 taxable value residence ($400,000 market value).

Funds from state sources shrank 10 percent over the past eight years while maintenance costs rose 19 percent.

The funding decline affects local road agencies through staff reduction, two of six garage closings, reduced employee benefits, reduced annual amounts of miles seal-coated and installing wing plows to improve snow-removal efficiency.

“Two years ago, Southwest Michigan Planning Commission had a seminar at Andrews University on transportation funding with a panel of state reps and senators, former Cassopolis village manager Kevin Gillette of the Lincoln Township board said.  “It became very evident that, with my own party taking pledges of no tax or fee increases, we can’t keep funding things at their current level when prices keep going up, so infrastructure is failing.

“After several months of discussion,” Gillette said, “we created a Fix Berrien Roads campaign committee around December 2010 and went to the county board, which could have put this on the ballot itself, like Cass County did in February. Instead, commissioners said they wanted to see support from communities across the county. From March-July 2011, our committee met with virtually all 39 municipalities (18 road agencies). Twenty-nine said yes, put it on the ballot. Two took no position, Bertrand and Hagar, because of vacancies created by recalls. Seven said no. The county board consented in November 2011, putting it in the general election so it wouldn’t compete with county issues on the August primary ballot for senior citizens and drug enforcement.”

Forty percent of roads maintained by Berrien County Road Commission rate as poor, compared to 5 percent in 2004.

The percent of fair road miles dwindled from 60 percent to just over 30 percent.

Berrien County has never levied road millage; Van Buren County levies a full mill.

“We’re falling behind,” Gillette said, “and putting it off makes it more expensive. Maintaining is cheaper than replacing. In Berrien County, for townships, there are 481 miles of primary roads and 1,001 miles of local roads, which is residential streets. In cities and villages, 108 miles of major streets and 206 miles of local streets. Any extra millage a city or village raises stays entirely in their jurisdiction and does not go to the state treasury for redistribution as P.A. 51 based on license plate fees and so on. We split the county into four zones for cooperative projects — for example, Niles-Buchanan Road for the City of Buchanan, the City of Niles, Buchanan Township and Niles Charter Township. Up in Coloma-Watervliet, you’ve got Red Arrow Highway, which is a county road, so they could pool money for grant match. We’re looking for hard surface things. None of the money will be used for road commission benefits and salaries. When gas was a dollar a gallon, we had more revenue than we do now at four dollars a gallon.”

“Everybody benefits from good roads,” Gillette said. “It’s the first thing people notice when they come into a community. You cannot see the physical condition of water, sewer, gas, electric and telephone lines like you see the condition of roads, gutters and sidewalks. That makes a very strong aesthetic impression, like substantial improvements in Baroda, Bridgman, Three Oaks, Berrien Springs and Buchanan. To some extent, it’s an economic development incentive.”




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