Concerns over millage votes as cost of living increases

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BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. – Local officials are preparing as the Michigan Primary Elections approach.

“We’re looking forward to a successful day,” said Watervliet City Manager Tyler Dotson.

“We’re ready to go!” said Kalla Langson, Buchanan’s City Clerk.

Primary Elections tend to see lower voter turnout compared to General Elections, but they are no less important, as cities and townships look to pass millages that go on to fund needed public services, like the Niles Dial-A-Ride Transportation service in Buchanan or the police department in Watervliet.

But new millages mean a rise in taxes, and with the increased cost of living, from inflation to high gas prices, there are concerns residents might not be so eager to vote for these ballot questions.

In Watervliet, the Police Protection Services millage aims to raise the tax to fund their police department from $3 to $5 for every $1,000 of a property’s tax value, which will cost residents an average of $170 a year, around $68 more compared to what they pay now.

“Sixty-eight dollars a year is a lot of money to a lot of folks out there, but then it comes back to priorities,” said Dotson. “What this millage will go to is to ensure that the city commission can keep that as a priority for the residents and a priority of the city as a whole.”

Dotson said the millage is not meant to completely fund the police department, but to help keep wages competitive, and continue to pay their staff, who provide full 24 hour policing for their small community.

“In its entirety, it will go to support the police department,” he said.

In Buchanan, Langston is less worried about the renewal of the Dial-a-Ride millage, which only asks for $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s tax value, and would continue funding the service into 2026.

“It’s a great service to our residents for people that can’t travel around,” Langston said. “I’m sure it weighs on their mind, with everything costing more, but I think the service is such a thing in the community that people see it, and they need it, and I think it’s going to pass through no problem, but you never know!”

But more importantly, it’s up to the residents of each community to decide.

“Regardless of how the millage passes, I’m not advocating for it one way or the other,” said Dotson.  “That’s for the voters to decide, and it’s for the city commission to take that result and make decisions beyond that.”

Voting for the Michigan Primary Elections opens on Tuesday.

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