Benton Township seeks to replace police, fire millage

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Funding for Benton Township fire and police support is up for consideration on the Aug. 2 primary ballot.

In previous years, the police and fire operating millage were each 3 mills. Since they expired in 2015, both face millage renewals.

In March, trustees approved a resolution to submit a replacement levy of 6 mills for police and fire on the Aug. 2 ballot. The millage would last 10 years, through 2025. When the millage was last renewed, it was 3 mills for fire and 3 mills for police. It is now being presented as 6 mills for police and fire.

Benton Township Comptroller Kelli Nelson said there is no increase in how much the township is seeking from taxpayers.

“This millage request is essentially a renewal, but must be called a replacement because the name of the proposed millage is being changed and the two previously separate millages are being combined into one,” Nelson said.

The previous two millage levies were last renewed in 2010 for five years each. It is now being put up to a vote for 10 years.

The millage would raise about $2.4 million in its first year. Residents with a home valued at $100,000 would pay around $300 a year for the levy.

If approved, the tax revenue raised by the millage request would be placed in a fund for both police and fire and can be allocated to either department based on the operational needs of the departments, Nelson said.

When a millage is levied for either police or fire, the tax revenue raised must be placed in the respective fund and used only for that purpose.

Township officials began talking about combining the millages in 2014. Nelson their intention was to combine and condense them into one or two millages for “more clarity.”

“The goal is to use the tax revenue in the most effective way possible to provide the best police and fire services possible to the community,” Nelson said. “As always, all money received from police and fire millages are accounted separately from general funds and audited annually by an independent accounting firm.”

What’s the money used for?

Fire Chief Dan Durham said past fire millages have allowed them to provide full-time fire protection for residents.

The fire department uses the majority of its levied funding for staffing purposes.

“Most days it allows us to keep four personnel on a shift so there is no hesitation to go into a structure,” Durham said. “When we respond to a fire, we are required to have two in the structure and two outside it. When you have four on duty, we don’t have to wait for part-time firefighters to get to the station or mutual aid to provide a fourth firefighter. It reduces damage and possibility of life.”

Police Chief Vince Fetke said the police millage has been used to keep officers up to date on technology for the past decade.

From in-car computers used to file paperwork to state-of the art radio systems that are connected to every police agency, Fetke said police presence would not be where it is without taxpayer support.

“The last several years there has been a decrease in staffing to try and save money,” Fetke said. “This will help us operate where we are currently at.”

Added Fetke: “One of the biggest things has been the in-car computer systems we use to access more information in a more time-sensitive way. To complete paperwork in the car, rather than go back to the office, is important. As big as the township is, that cuts down on response time.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 26, 2016)

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