Board of Commissioners discuss seat vacancy, grant opportunities

Published 10:00 am Saturday, May 14, 2022

ST. JOSEPH — This week’s Berrien County Board of Commissioners meeting featured news about the Napier Avenue Bridge re-opening as well as news from Lansing about future grant opportunities. Commissioners also set the process for filling the vacancy left by Don Meeks’ resignation.
Interim Road Department Directer Kevin Stack said crews have been working since late April to make the needed repairs to the Napier Avenue Bridge. He expects the bridge to re-open to public traffic by Memorial Day weekend.
The closure of the bridge had been a major concern since it is located right next to the Spectrum Lakeland St. Joseph hospital and resulted in longer transport times for ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
Stack told commissioners Thursday that the bridge has been stabilized since late April with repairs made and monitoring and certification done since then. “We’ve been watching it for a week and a half and it’s been working well,” he said. “We are monitoring it right now and simulating live traffic to make sure there are no issues.”
Commissioners heard from Michael Krombeen of Midwest Strategy Group on what’s going on in Lansing right now. His company is a lobbying firm based in Lansing that is currently working with other area clients such as Lake Michigan College and the Kinexus economic development organization.
“I look at my job as serving the needs of Berrien County and chasing all sorts of things including concerns commissioners have about anything happening in state government,” he said. “(County Administrator) Brian Dissette has been getting us up to speed on how you can maximize state and federal dollars.”
He outlined a number of topics including newly available funding for rural broadband and other items and what the county can expect to see with the state budget for the 2023 year. He said people can expect to see more opportunities for rural broadband expansion with the roll out of state and federal grant programs.
He said state officials are also proposing to use some of the federal dollars they’re getting to spend more on state and local parks. He said $65 million is being set aside for local park and recreation projects. In related news, he said legislative action has started to approve the funding for this year’s round of Natural Resources Trust Fund grants.
He noted that of 117 projects being funded by trust fund grants this year, six are for projects in Berrien County. The legislation approving the grant funding has to be passed by the full Senate and then the House before heading for the Governor’s desk for her signature.
With the county commissioner vacancy, commissioners voted to interview all four people who have applied for the vacancy left by Meeks’ resignation. Meeks represents the third commission district which covers Benton Township. He resigned in late April to spend more time with his family. He had already announced that he wasn’t running for re-election.
Those who will be interviewed next Thursday at 8:35 a.m. are James Martin, Chokwe Pitchford, Jerry Sirk and Joseph Taylor. Pitchford and Taylor both filed as Democrats to run for the seat later this year. They will face off in the August primary.
Whoever is appointed to fill the vacancy will serve until the end of the year. Commissioners also approved the process they will use: they will ask each candidate separately to give a little of their background, why they want to serve and then answer a handful of questions. Each candidate will be asked the same questions and will be sequestered.