County to consider veterans millage

November 20, 2011
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Although Kent County commissioners just adopted the 2012 operational spending plan last Thursday, they began thinking about the 2013 general fund budget at the same time. Commissioner Harold Mast was the catalyst last week for getting his peers to start focusing on the 2013 budget when he cited a spending item he felt needed a different funding method.

Mast asked commissioners to reconsider creating a millage that would raise funds for the county’s Veterans Affairs Department, which was created three years ago. The millage request he proposed in September was for 0.01 mills and would have cost property owners $1 for every $100,000 of taxable value. It would have generated an estimated $205,000 next year.

Under an 1899 state statute, county commissioners would have been able to enact the millage without having it go to voters because the request was less than 1/10th of a mill and is exempt from the more recent Headley amendment. State law also allows the county to create a specific millage for military veterans.

Instead, commissioners agreed in September to add money from the general fund to the $169,000 already in the department’s 2012 budget, and that raised the spending level to $262,000.

“We have to figure out a way not to rely on the general fund,” said Mast, who is on the county’s Veterans Advisory Committee. “We need to push the envelope and get more funding from the federal government.”

Mast said the county ranks 47th of the state’s 83 counties in securing federal money for veterans and he felt the millage would improve Kent’s position. He said Veterans Affairs has raised $3.5 million from the federal government for the county’s veterans over the last three years.

“It’s a one-time millage,” he said, adding that commissioners would have to decide whether to keep it in place every year. “We’ve got the fourth largest number of veterans in the state.”

Mast said he would again ask the board to approve the millage next year. “We will consider that,” said Commissioner Harold Voorhees, chairman of the Finance Committee.

“It is something that is possible,” said Commissioner Dick Vander Molen. “We need to look at what our needs are. I don’t like looking at what Ann Arbor is doing because I don’t like what Ann Arbor is doing.”

Washtenaw County, where Ann Arbor is located, has enacted 1/40th of a mill to help fund its veterans’ relief budget. The millage is expected to raise more than $355,000 in 2012. Commissioner Roger Morgan said the board should put together a committee to look at possibly establishing a millage next year.

“Some of the senior services are going to take care of the older veterans, but we will have some coming back from Iraq,” said Commissioner Candace Chivis.

Commissioners Stan Ponstein and Bill Hirsch also have voiced their support for a millage.

The county’s 2012 general operating budget is balanced at $160.5 million, but down by $5 million from this year.

“I think a balanced budget is what the taxpayers deserve,” said Commissioner Jim Saalfeld. “I think it’s critically important that we show leadership.”

The new budget goes into effect Jan. 1.

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