Buchanan finalizes agreement with Niles for Dial-A-Ride services

BUCHANAN – The Buchanan Dial-A-Ride program will soon have new management but residents should not see any changes in services and could actually see expanded services.

Monday, Buchanan City Commissioners approved a few modifications to a new contract with the city of Niles to operate the Buchanan Dial-A-Ride. Commissioners had approved a first version of the contract at their June 14 meeting.

The Buchanan Dial-A-Ride operation has been in limbo since its former operator, TMI, suddenly went out of business in the spring of 2020 and blamed pandemic restrictions. The county took over operations of the Buchanan Dial-A-Ride and Berrien Bus transportation services last summer on a temporary basis.

Berrien County Community Development Director Dan Fette reported in February that the goal was to have the Niles Dial-A-Ride to take over the Buchanan operation by this fall. The county is also working on a separate track with municipalities in the county to find ways to sustain rural transit services.

Buchanan City Manager Heather Grace said a couple of revisions to the Niles contract required another commission vote at their Monday meeting. She noted that the Michigan Department of Transportation wanted language added to make clear that it is a secured party on the Dial-A-Ride buses. Niles officials also wanted a couple of minor changes.

Grace said the contract with Niles to operate the Buchanan system will run through the end of 2022 when the current millage runs out. Buchanan’s obligation will be to pay Niles the revenue it gets from the one mill millage levy for Dial-A-Ride operations.

“When the millage ends next year, we can re-assess whether to continue with the city of Niles or pursue other options,” she said. “I think this will be beneficial to citizens.”

Grace said earlier this month that partnering with Niles is a natural choice since they share some ridership already. She added that there will be some economies of scale with Buchanan residents not paying any more and maybe paying less. The Niles partnership also would offer Buchanan residents expanded services to the Niles area.

Monday’s meeting also featured discussion and emergency authorization of storm-related repairs. Grace and other city staff told commissioners that the weekend heavy rains caused the collapse of nearly 300 feet of storm sewer on Third Street near Red Bud Trail as well as erosion of a road section on Riverfront Drive.

Commissioners authorized Grace to spend up to $108,000 from the general and local streets funds for the Third Street work. She said she will be getting more quotes for the work and also sit down with everyone involved to see how it can be integrated into work already scheduled for 2023.

Mayor Sean Denison and other commissioners said they know the work has to be done but don’t want to see the work done now and then the street torn up again for the 2023 work which is more focused on Red Bud Trail.

“We’re all on the same page, I just don’t want to do the work twice,” he said.

With the Riverfront Drive work, commissioners directed Grace to find the cheapest way to make the road passable until more work can be done this fall. The city is expecting to get a grant to pay for road repairs then. The drive is used by fishermen accessing the St. Joseph River as well as one business in that area.

Also Monday, commissioners voted to:

  • Approve continuing the 80-20 employee health care cost option for the coming year. The city has three choices when it comes to providing health care to employees: establishing a hard cap cost, doing the 80-20 option or paying for all health care. The city has been doing the 80-20 option for years and it is written into city contracts.
  • Renew the city’s liability and pool insurance policy with the Michigan Municipal League for $92,123 for the 2021-22 year.
  • Approve a contract with the Spicer Group to provide services associated with the National Discharge Elimination System and the Separate Storm Sewer System for Buchanan and several other entities in Berrien and Cass counties.

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