NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo Township Board moved the process of establishing a 20-year Public Safety Special Assessment District forward during its Jan. 19 meeting.
Township Supervisor Michelle Heit explained that the Special Assessment levy (of 2.1 mills) would replace the township’s two public safety millages (which currently total 1.77 mills) next winter.
She said Special Assessments are not subject to the Headlee Rollback rule so “the 2.1 mills we will collect will stay 2.1 mills.”
“An example of Headlee Rollback is the township used to collect 1 mill for our operating millage, and over the last 30-some years … it’s down to .38 mills,” she said.
The township attempted to have its operating millage restored to 1 mill in the August 2020 election, but the proposal was rejected by voters.
“We want to make sure there will be funds to pay off the 20-year bond (totaling $5 million) taken out for the new public safety building that will house fire and police while continuing the current level of emergency service (including Medic 1 Ambulance, the Township Fire Department, and police coverage provided by the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department),” Heit said.
She said the Public Safety Special Assessment District represents a slight increase in mills collected to make up for the loss of payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) for public safety from the Four Winds Casino.
“We currently collect $149,000 in PILT money … in addition to the funds from the millage,” she said.
Heit said a home with a $100,000 taxable value would see an annual increase of about $30 under the special assessment.
The meeting included a public hearing on the Special Assessment District proposal, and among those making comments were:
Rose Dudiak asked why a special assessment where the voters have no say and the Township Board makes the decision instead of a public safety millage which would give voters a chance to voice their opinion “just like they did in August when they turned down the millage increase.”
“I just don’t think it was quite fair to all of us. Even through the taxes aren’t going up that much, it’s just the way it was done,” she said.
Heit said the Public Safety Special Assessment is meant to make sure the township is able to pay for the 20-year bond while also providing services without having to pass another millage every five years.
Brian Dodge said the Public Safety Special Assessment represents a “significant tax increase for many of us.”
“For those that have a greater home value come greater taxes,” he said.
Addy Lauber asked what the approximate amount the township will collect from the Public Safety Special Assessment versus the previous two millages
Heit said the Public Safety Special Assessment is expected to bring in about $1.2860 per year while this year’s millages generated $239,766 plus $863,395 (plus the PILT money which is going away).
Lauber said she didn’t get a letter notifying her of the hearing, a complaint also voiced by others during the hearing (including John Walles, who said he lives in Palatine, Ill., and received the notice of the public hearing “yesterday”).
Heit said the letter was supposed to have been sent out to taxpayers on Dec. 23.
Ed Trainor said the 2017 public safety millage received only 118 yes votes out of about 2,000 registered voters, noting that the Public Safety Special Assessment District will last for 20 years. He said residents of Grand Beach and Michiana, who have their own place forces, are obligated to pay for police services that “are probably 95 percent redundant to them.”
“This appears to be a strategy to lock in a vote of 118 voters. That you don’t have to back to the electorate to face that … what I consider unfair taxation on the residents of Grand Beach and Michiana,” he said.
Heit said Grand Beach and Michiana do benefit from ambulance and fire protection provided by the township.
Township Clerk Judy Zabicki noted that Township Hall and Fire Station Number One were both paid for by The Pokagon Fund, not the taxpayers.
“This is the first substantial building that the taxpayers will be paying for,” she added.
Kim Landess said she was surprised at how much the new public safety building will cost (Heit said the project is expected to total close to $5 million, with the building itself about $3.8 million).
During the hearing Heit said the 2.1 mill rate could be lowered during the life of the special assessment district if taxable values rise.
Township officials were not sure of the answer when asked if levies from the special assessment district would be tax deductible.
Heit said another public hearing will be held in February, followed by another resolution that needs to be passed by the Township Board. She said the Public Safety Special Assessment wouldn’t take affect until next year’s winter taxes are due.
Following the public hearing, the Township Board voted 5-0 to prepare the assessment roll (Public Safety Special Assessment District Resolution Number 2) and to schedule the next public hearing (Public Safety Special Assessment District Resolution Number 3). Heit said information will be posted on the township’s website.
Also during its Jan. 19 meeting, the New Buffalo Township Board:
Was told by Lt. Ryan Sullivan of the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department that in November a building under construction had some tools stolen during a break-in. He said the department focuses on unoccupied structures this time of year and said the public can register for vacation home checks via a link at bcsheriff.org. He also said 2020 was the 13th year the Sheriff’s Department provided dedicated patrols to the township, noting that Lt. Julie Flick retired during the year “having served … as patrol supervisor over the entirety of the contract.”
Heit relayed an update on the public safety building project, saying “they’re a little bit behind, but Skillman has got a good handle on what’s going on … and it should be closed up pretty soon.”
Set Board of Review meeting dates for July and December of 2021 and OK’d a resolution authorizing local residents to protest in writing to the Board of Review.
Approved two payment requests from Roggow Construction Company (of $10,975.50 and $45,949.50) for the township’s half share the Union Pier Trailhead Project. Heit said the project is being paid for by a Pokagon Fund grant with Chikaming Township paying the other half.