E-911 tax request on Nov. 3 ballot

Published 11:02 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

Edwardsburg Argus

CASSOPOLIS – With the local telephone surcharge the Michigan Public Service Commission (PSC) approved insufficient to cover operational costs of Cass County’s Enhanced 911 emergency telephone service, voters will be asked Nov. 3 to approve up to a fifth of a mill ($.20) per $1,000 of all taxable property for five years beginning Dec. 1.
The levy, which would raise an estimated $364,588 its first year, would expire Dec. 1, 2013.

According to Commissioner Johnie Rodebush’s, D-Howard Township, Resolution 116 of 2009, which the county board adopted last week on a 10-5 vote, Act 379 of 2008 changed Michigan 911 law.

Since it is “desirable” to submit a proposal to the electorate “to provide for continued operation of the Cass County Central Dispatch System, including the E-911 emergency telephone system, this proposal will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot:

“To provide reasonable and necessary funding to continue the Cass County 911 emergency service:

‘Shall the constitutional tax rate limitation in the County of Cass be increased by up to 1/5 mill ($.20) per thousand dollars against all taxable property in the County of Cass for a period of five years beginning with the Dec. 1, 2009, levy and ending with the Dec. 1, 2013, levy so as to provide funding for the operation of the ‘9-1-1’ Central Dispatch? If approved and levied in its entirety on Dec. 1, 2009, this millage wold raise an estimated $364,588 in the first year,” Rodebush read.

Commissioner Ed Goodman, D-Silver Creek Township, noticed that “we only need $284,000,” not $364,588, so what will become of the difference?

County Administrator Terry Proctor responded, “The Board of Commissioners establishes what the millage will be each year. This authorizes up to 1/5 of one mill. That does not mean that the Board of Commissioners has to levy the full 1/5 of one mill every year. What you have to do, by statute, is to put that last sentence in” containing the phrase “in its entirety. That doesn’t tie the hands of the Board of Commissioners to levy the full 1/5 of one mill. It could levy less than that. It doesn’t even have to levy it.”

“I support E-911,” said Commissioner Charlie Arnold, R-Cassopolis, “and I am in favor of providing this essential service to county residents. However, I do not believe property taxes are the way to accomplish this goal. I feel that Cass County residents have demonstrated their willingness to fund E-911 by means of a surcharge by voting for a surcharge not once, but four separate times, over the past years. I also feel that a property tax would be unfair to the farm community in Cass County if you consider that one of my neighbors would pay $140 in new taxes. Another would pay $105. Another, slightly more than that, and the list goes on and on. I suspect that story would be much the same in our lake communities.”

“Considering that the average house worth $100,000 would pay approximately $10 extra per year, I think you can see the disparity there,” Arnold added. “If if was to be brought back up at a later date in the form of a surcharge, I would be wholeheartedly glad to vote for that.”

Rodebush, a former volunteer fireman, replied, “Even though I agree with Commissioner Arnold, I think a farmer paying $140 and he’s got a $500,000 barn on fire, he wants somebody there just as fast as he can get them there. I want us to have an enhanced system – whatever it takes to get it.”

“I don’t think this has anything to do with E-911,” countered Commissioner David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, “because we’re going to have E-911 whether this passes or fails. It will be paid for out of the general fund,” which has been subsidizing the shortfalls. “If we don’t, we’ll be closing down Central Dispatch, and I don’t think we’re going to be doing that.”

Commissioner Gordon Bickel Sr., R-Porter Township, fears “this puts the burden on real estate people who already have five charges. This is just another small one to add on. I know in my area there are several large farms and this puts a lot of burden on them, and they may only have one or two phones. The phone people should share a little more of this burden.”

“Regardless of the way the money is raised,” Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, said, “I think a surcharge is going to pass easier because people just don’t like the word millage. It sends a bad sign.”

“A surcharge is a much better way to go,” Arnold agreed. “You’re right, $140 a year is not a lot of money when you talk about a $500,000 barn. But, to go back to the surcharge spreads the cost out over the entire public. To go back to the surcharge would add an additional $2 a month for someone with two cell phones and a land line in their home. That’s $24 a year that everybody gets to pay. I realize times are tough out there, but I think $2 a month, everyone could come up with that.”

“My thoughts are we could pass a surcharge a fifth time and still be in the same boat,” commented Commissioner E. Clark Cobb, D-Dowagiac.

Voting against ballot placement were Chairman Robert Wagel, Vice Chairman Ron Francis and Commissioners Gordon Bickel, David Taylor and Charlie Arnold.
“I would hope that when this comes on the ballot we can all support the issue,” Wagel said.