County commissioners talk taxes, millage rates

Published 2:16 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Taxes and finances were on the minds of Berrien County Commissioners at their weekly meeting Thursday. Commissioners amended the county’s general fund budget and also heard about how millage rates and taxes could change this year. 

Commissioners also heard updates about the aftermath of Wednesday’s storms which affected northern Berrien County worse than other areas. Road Department Director Mark Heyliger and Drain Commissioner Christopher Quattrin said the northern part of the county received between two and five inches of rain. 

Heyliger reported specifically on a culvert failure on Point O’ Woods Drive in Benton Township where over five inches of rain fell. He said the road department has put up barriers, contacted the state and are monitoring the situation. He said arrangements have been made for nearby residents to be able to get in and out. 

He said fixing the culvert could cost $300,000 or more. He said the county has contracted with the Wightman engineering farm to study all the culverts in the county to see what condition they’re in.  

Quattrin said the trend in recent years has been toward rain events that are more intense and more localized. He said that his department is looking at 30 or so drains where there are concerns about failures occurring. 

As for taxes, County Equalization Director Warren Parrish reported on assessments and taxes and how 2023 is different than past years. He noted that the inflation rate multiplier set late last year by the Michigan State Tax Commission is 7.9 percent which is the highest it has ever been 

He said the higher than normal inflation rate multiplier affects the capped value calculation for taxable values as well as the Headlee millage reduction fraction. For 2023, the capped value will be 5 percent since state law limits the inflation rate increase to that number even though the actual inflation rate is more than that. 

“This is the first time that has ever happened,” Parrish said. “But it’s still a big jump … Many properties will see a higher than normal increase in taxable value.”  

The Headlee law requires an annual and permanent reduction of millage rates if a millage results in more revenue generated adjusted to inflation than the prior year. With the inflation rate higher than normal, he said it will be less likely for millage rates to be rolled back. 

“There will be increased revenue for taxing units and higher taxes for many property owners,” he said. “Arguably increases resulting from inflation aren’t increases per se, rather the worth of the dollar has changed. Both revenue and costs go up from inflation.” 

Parrish noted that local units of government determine assessed values of property each March with the county determining equalized values each April and the state making their determination each May. He said he will be back before the county board to act on the equalized values later this month. 

With the budget amendment, Finance Director Doug James said the original budget approved late last year did not include any of the county’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funding. The county received nearly $30 million and commissioners have earmarked it for projects such as broadband expansion and infrastructure. 

The budget amendment approved adds in $13.765 million in revenue and expenditures with the new budget balanced at $81.64 million in revenue and expenditures. Most of that extra money will go into the county’s capital project fund to pay for projects this year. 

        In other action, commissioners approved: 

  • Accepting MCOLES training academy scholarships totaling $48,796 for four Berrien County Sheriff’s Department deputies attending the police academy.  
  • Contracting with GovOS for $3,000 a year to provide property fraud alert services. 
  • Applying to the Michigan Department of Transportation for critical bridge repair funding for four identified bridges in the county.