Berrien County considering changes to commissioner districts

Published 1:47 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

ST. JOSEPH – Berrien County commissioner districts will likely look different next year, even though the number of districts will stay the same at 12. Berrien County Clerk Sharon Tyler and Election Administrator Sheila Reitz outlined the proposed changes at Thursday’s county board meeting.

On the re-apportionment issue relative to the boundaries of county commissioner districts, Tyler said is likely to be settled in the coming days. She noted that the non-partisan statewide redistricting effort does not govern changes at the county level and that a five-member county committee is deciding the commissioner district boundaries.

That committee is made up of herself, the county treasurer, the county prosecutor and one representative each from the two major political parties. She said the committee began meeting in late April but has been hampered by the delay in getting 2020 census results and confusing guidance from the state.

Tyler and Reitz said the committee’s goals have been to keep the number of districts at 12, to make sure the districts have as equal a population as possible, keep them as square as possible and to divide townships, villages and cities only as necessary.

Reitz noted that the current county board district map cannot be used as it has too wide a variance with today’s numbers. Four proposed maps are being considered including one that is fairly similar to the current one and one that would put coastal communities along Lake Michigan together.

Tyler said local clerks appear to prefer the map that keeps nearly all the townships whole and has only one split where a township precinct is linked to another municipality. That split would be in Niles Township in the area near the airport where it would now be joined in with the city of Niles which is next to it.

Tyler said the re-apportionment committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. Friday in the county board conference room in the Administration Center in St. Joseph. They could decide on a final map or eliminate some of the proposals.

She noted that she is not totally comfortable with the county’s 2020 census numbers.

“We had a decrease in population but actually an increase in second homeowners so commissioners are actually representing more people,” she said.

Tyler gave reasons for why she is uncomfortable with the census numbers, saying that the census process was all online, it occurred during the pandemic and there was a lot of confusion.

In action Thursday, commissioners approved:

  • A resolution honoring Buchanan native and 2021 Olympian Hannah Roberts who won a silver medal in BMX racing in the recent Olympics.
  • The renewal of an auditing agreement for the county senior centers with Rendel Elie & Associates for three years.
  • Hiring the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission to help the county with rural broadband efforts.
  • Hiring Public Sector Consultants to advise the county on spending American Rescue Plan Act funds received. The county is expected to get $29.8 million.
  • Approving a complement staffing change to the Sheriff’s Office in light of a new agreement between the county and Brandywine schools for a school resource officer.