Ambulance special assessment district progress continues in Dowagiac

Published 12:35 pm Thursday, March 28, 2024

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DOWAGIAC — The City of Dowagiac took another step toward fully reestablishing ambulance services to the community after the August 2023 shutdown of Pride Care.

The Dowagiac City Council adopted a resolution Monday determining the boundaries of the proposed Special Assessment District and the amount to be assessed. The resolution also directs that a special assessment roll be prepared spreading the special assessment levy on the taxable value of the properties benefited.

More than 30 community members were on hand for the meeting.

“It is always good to see people who are active and engaged and concerned about healthcare in the community and really wanting to have food service,” said City Manager Kevin Anderson. “It’s not just the city working on this, the city and the neighboring townships are really united in trying to make sure we’ve got good quality care. We all need each other, both for finances and having timely service.”

At the last City Council meeting, council scheduled a public hearing to hear comments regarding the proposed Ambulance Special Assessment District. Since September 2023, the Cass/Van Buren Emergency Services Authority and Cass County Ambulance Authority have contracted with SMCAS, a regional ambulance service owned by member municipalities, to provide one fully-staffed ALS vehicle to the area while working through the details of expanding to a second similarly staffed ALS vehicle as quickly as practical. 

One of the two is located in the city-owned ambulance building on the corner of Pokagon Street and Enterprise Drive. The anticipated tax subsidy necessary to support two ALS ambulances serving both the CVBEMA and CCAA is $902,000. A formula based on three factors: taxable value, census, and a fixed share of the costs, would be a fair way to share this subsidy. As long as all current members of both authorities continue to participate, the city’s initial annual share of the subsidy would be approximately $127,000 for the first year. 

The council’s resolution determines the boundaries of the district and the amount to be assessed. The resolution also directs that a special assessment roll be prepared spreading the special assessment levy on the taxable value of the properties benefited. When the special assessment roll is reported to the council during its April 8 meeting, the council will receive the roll and adopt a resolution setting a public hearing on the roll for May 13. After the public hearing, the city council, if it chooses to do so, will adopt a resolution confirming the roll. 

If the resolution confirming the roll passes, the special assessment becomes due and is collected at the same time and in the same manner as city taxes. Throughout the process, there will be opportunities for citizens to call for a referendum and appeal their individual assessment. In future years, only resolutions two to four would be necessary. The special assessment request is for $130,000 which includes the cost of the current contract and anticipates a rate increase prior to consideration of next year’s special assessments. Based upon the city’s current taxable value the assessment would be approximately 1.4 mills. The typical cost for a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would be $11.67 per month and an estimated $140 per year.

Getting the special assessments placed on the summer tax bill will require Council to complete the process by June 1.

“Council really wanted to look at what is a fair way to do that and that the cost would be spread fairly across the community and feels like that is a good approach to take,” Anderson said.

In addition, the council approved a resolution providing a six-month extension with SMCAS for interim ambulance services as recommended by the CVBESA. In September 2023, after the shutdown of PrideCare, the Cass Van Buren Emergency Services Authority, in conjunction with the Cass County Ambulance Authority, contracted for interim services with SMCAS for one Advanced Life Support unit that will be supported by mutual aid. Since that time, service has been expanded to include a second vehicle, a Basic Life Support unit for an additional 12 hours/day service. Plans are to expand the BLS to an ALS 24 hour per day operation as quickly as possible. 

The cost of this agreement will be shared with eight neighboring townships via an agreed upon formula. The City’s share is expected to be approximately $130,000 per year.

In other business, the city council approved a resolution authorizing a grant application for 2024 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant funding for the renovation of South Front Street Park. Since 2020, the City of Dowagiac has been working on a plan to redevelop South Front Street which includes the renovation of the South Front Street Park, a waterfront park located a few blocks from downtown. 

Over the years, the park has lost many of its features and has become underutilized. The overall proposed project includes the renovation of existing park features such as the pedestrian foot bridge across the creek and seating areas, the restoration of lost features such as swimming areas and playground equipment, and the creation of new opportunities through parking areas and walking paths. The 2024 MNRTF Grant application would be for the first phase of the park renovations. The South Front Street Park Project is one small piece of the City’s South Front Street Rehabilitation vision which focuses on blight elimination, extending the downtown streetscape to the park area, making improvements to an existing park, expanding waterfront park opportunities, and revitalization through residential housing development.

“There really is a connection between some of the housing that can go there, but between the park and water access and downtown,” Anderson said. “It is remarkably close and when we get the streetscape and the park improved there it’s going to really feel like it’s connected to downtown, which it is. We’re really, really excited about that.”

In further business, council:

  • Authorizing the sale of two lots in the industrial park – the first a 2.08-acre lot to Jason Hurrle of Hurrle & Sons for the construction of a storage facility at a cost of $4,160 and the second a 1.79-acre lot to Excel Propane for the construction of a propane filling station at a cost of $17,900 with the sale being contingent upon site plan approval, LARA approval and a Phase 1 environmental review.
  • Decertified a dead-end segment of street located on Grand Boulevard between Pokagon Street and Ashland Street for a total decertification length of 200 feet.
  • Accepted the Independent Auditor’s Report from Yeo & Yeo for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2023. The city received an “unqualified” audit opinion, which is considered a “clean” audit report and added to its funny balance.
  • Approved a Park Lease with the Dowagiac Youth Baseball and Softball Association for use and maintenance of fields at Russom Park.