Commissioners get earful on Napier land purchase
Berrien County Commissioners got an earful from Niles residents frustrated over the county’s decision last month to purchase 26 acres of land on Napier Avenue in Benton Township for the purpose of relocating several county services.
Those attending Thursday’s commissioners meeting — held at the Niles Township Hall — expressed concern the land purchase would eventually lead to the creation of a north county campus viewed by many to be inconveniently far away from south county residents.
Commissioner Mac Elliot said the county has not yet made a decision on where to build a new consolidated county operation. That decision, he said, would likely happen in the distant future.
“That probably will be a decision made by people who don’t look like us because none of us will likely be serving on the board at that time,” Elliot said.
Commissioner Neal Nitz said the county has no intention of closing the current services provided in the Niles South County Building — another concern brought up by members of the public at the meeting.
“We are going to maintain status quo what’s down there,” he said.
Commissioner Jeannette Leahey echoed Nitz’ statement, adding Niles has one of the greatest assets in the county — the Law Enforcement Complex.
“That is a wonderful building and does a wonderful job … and there is no way that we would ever take that out of there,” she said.
According to the plan, the old car dealership on the Napier property will be converted into a health department facility, taking the place of the five health department buildings located in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. A new animal control facility will be built on the Napier property as well. The current facility is located in Berrien Center.
Niles City Councilwoman Georgia Boggs told the commissioners her constituents don’t want to drive all the way to Benton Township to use the new animal control facility.
Commissioner Andy Vavra responded by saying Napier Avenue is a more convenient location for the entire county.
Jan Personette, a Niles resident, said people in south county feel left out and urged the commissioners to consider placing a county campus in a more central area.
“Don’t forget about us down here,” she said. “That’s exactly how we feel, like nobody cares.”