Niles Charter Township board discusses upcoming changes, budget cuts

NILES — Changes due to COVID-19 are coming to Niles Township.

The Niles Charter Township Board of Trustees met on Monday evening to discuss extending the burning ordinance and addressing the revenue sharing cuts that will impact the township’s general fund.

The meeting had no public audience, while the board members discussed each item.

The township’s burning ordinance generally expires on May 15, however due to spring weather conditions, the township board voted to extend it through June 15.

“Everybody has been locked in, and the weather hasn’t been cooperating,” said Niles Charter Township Clerk Terry Eull. “It’s been so wet.”

With the threat of grass fires still relatively low with the damp conditions, the township voted to extend the ordinance through June 15. Residents should still contact the fire department for a burn permit prior to burning leaves and other yard materials.

The board members further discussed the revenue sharing cuts from the state that they expect to see. The Michigan state sales tax is collected, and then distributed to municipalities throughout the state in revenue sharing to fund department functions. With heavy COVID-19 mandates still in place in Michigan on retail establishments, the revenue collected from sales tax is projected to be substantially lower.

“On May 15, [the state] is doing the revenue conference that they do every year to estimate what the revenue for the remainder of the year is,” Eull said.

The state also predicts what its revenue will look like into the next year, as it prepares to set its budget.

“We look to have a substantial reduction between now and the end of September, which is the state’s fiscal year end,” Eull said. “The money we get from [the state] is probably at least 80 percent of our budget for general funds.”

The Niles Charter Township’s general fund has allocations for services and departments, such as the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department. Eull estimates that 40 to 45 percent of the general fund budget is used directly on  police services. The fire department would also feel an impact, as the Niles Charter Township’s general fund supplements the fire department’s funding as well.

“The fire department has its own millage, but it’s not been enough for the last couple of years,” Eull said. “We may have a vote for a millage to up the fire department operations in November.”

A millage is a tax rate tied to local property tax values, with an amount assigned to multiply with every $1,000 assigned to the property tax value.

At its last meeting, the township board cut $160,000 from road work with the Berrien County Road Commission. Now, the township board waits to find out more information from the state on May 15.

“We know it’s going to be severe, but we don’t know the exact amount yet,” Eull said of the cuts in the township’s general fund.

At the end of the meeting, members discussed what they will need to be able to re-open the building’s doors to the public. Protective screens are already on the counters. The board members are looking into obtaining more masks and hand sanitizer to keep everyone safe when COVID-19 mandates are lifted and they open doors back up for business as usual.

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