Berrien County reimburses Niles for RAP Grant expenditures

Published 3:59 pm Thursday, July 20, 2023

ST. JOSEPH — Berrien County Board of Commissioners approved reimbursing the city of Niles for expenditures on state grant approved projects at their meeting Thursday. They signed a change order as well as for the south county communications tower project.

Thursday’s county board meeting also featured an update on expanding broadband service from Midwest Energy & Communications and a report on what’s going on in Lansing in the state government.

The city of Niles received a $1.287 million Michigan Economic Development Corporation Revitalization and Placemaking Program grant last year for projects within the downtown. Projects funded by the grant included the streetscape work that has replaced downtown sidewalks.

The RAP grant also provided funding for a number of private projects as well as the creation of a permanent downtown outdoor dining area and the rehabilitation of public restrooms.

Niles Main Street Manager Lisa Croteau said this week that the streetscape project and three private projects are done with one more private project, the outdoor dining area and the public restrooms work still to be done.

The county board’s action Thursday followed action by the Niles City Council in late June to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to pay for the city’s share of the costs for the sidewalk replacement project. The council’s action also asked for reimbursement from the RAP grant for half of the sidewalk replacement costs, expected to be $462,301.25.

Thursday, the county board approved the release of the RAP grant funds to reimburse the city. The resolution stated that the county will reimburse the city for 50 percent of the project costs.

Croteau noted that the city is applying for more funding through the second round of the RAP program to fund more projects. The announcement of who will get funding in the second round is expected to be made this fall.

Relative to the south county communications tower, the county board approved a resolution allowing for more testing to be done to find an appropriate location for the tower. The new tower is needed in the south county to improvement radio communications on both sides of the state line and the county has received a state grant to pay for most of the costs.

The board had already approved spending $70,000 in January on preliminary work. The new resolution approved Thursday calls for spending more money, up to $975,890.50 for remote sensing work to find the right location for the tower. A site has to be found in order to meet deadlines associated with the grant.

County officials had initially planned to place the tower on American Electric Power property on the north side of Buchanan. When that site didn’t work out due to the discovery of Native American artifacts, the county then looked at a nearby site adjacent to the Buchanan Township fire station.

County Administrator Brian Dissette reported earlier this year that the county had approached Lake Michigan College to use land they own in the Bertrand Crossing Industrial Park as the tower site if the second location doesn’t work out. The Bertrand Crossing site is still under consideration.

On broadband, MEC chief operating officer Terry Rubenthaler updated commissioners on the state broadband grant the company is expected to get later this summer. MEC is working with Berrien, Cass and Van Buren Counties as well as area townships to fund broadband expansion.

He said the new state grant will allow the company to bring broadband to over 5,000 unserved customers in Berrien County. The project is expected to cost $23 million with funding coming from the grant and contributions from the county and townships. The county and townships have pledged to use some of their ARPA funds on the project.

He reported that most of the rural areas in Berrien County east of I-94 will get broadband. He noted that MEC has already done broadband expansion in central county townships with another grant program and this new program will concentrate on the Baroda, Three Oaks and Galien areas.

As for news from Lansing, political consultant Mike Krombeen reported that the proposed new state budget will provide funding for recreational projects including the extension of the McCoy’s Creek Trail out to the River St. Joe brewery.

Krombeen told commissioners to expect action on short term rental legislation later this year. The legislature has discussed but not acted on such legislation in the past few years. The proposed new legislation is expected to keep local control which has been important to the county and to area townships.