Airport levy gets approval from majority of voters

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — The Southwest Michigan Regional Airport got most of what it was looking for at Tuesday’s ballot.

Five of seven Berrien County municipalities approved the 10-year airport millage renewal, which goes toward maintaining and updating the regional airport.

Bridgman and Lake Township voters turned down implementing the 0.1-mill tax Tuesday, as they did 10 years ago. In 2006, the millage was narrowly denied by both municipalities.

About 59 percent of Bridgman voters Tuesday declined to help fund the regional airport. In its lone precinct, about 57 percent of Lake Township voters were against the millage.

In a large showing of support, about 72 percent of St. Joseph voters approved its airport millage renewal for 0.25 mills.

Benton, Lincoln, Royalton and St. Joseph townships all faced a 0.1-mill airport renewal for 10 years. The levy will cost $10 a year for the owner of a $200,000 home.

The millage passed in Benton Township, with 68 percent in approval. About 61 percent of Lincoln Township voters gave the “thumbs up” for the tax.

About 66 percent of Royalton Township voters approved the airport levy. In its four precincts, St. Joseph Township approved the tax with 66 percent in favor of the millage.

Benton Harbor did not send the levy to the ballot, but will make its customary $20,000 contribution out of its general fund.

Airport Director Vincent DesJardins said he was glad to see the continued support of the existing municipalities. He said while Bridgman and Lake Township may not have seen the benefits of the airport, their dismissal of the levy could change what the airport authority plans to do in the coming years.

“It will have an effect on our plans in how we want our future developments to move forward,” DesJardins said. “But I think we’ll be able to move forward and have a viable airport for our community. It’s an essential, local asset. I would like to thank our current taxpayers for their continued support.”

Cornerstone Alliance President Rob Cleveland, who co-chairs the Friends of the Airport, said he was disappointed to see Bridgman and Lake Township vote down the millage. However, Cleveland is adamant the airport will continue to thrive.

“I want to thank everyone in each community that supported the millage,” he said. “The fact we were able to maintain the existing supporters is validation the community believes in growth. The airport is going to be a great steward of taxpayers dollars.”

Cleveland said the airport’s gross budget this year is about $3.1 million. The millage covers about $330,000 of its expenditures.

The airport is owned by St. Joseph and Benton Harbor and is operated by the Southwest Michigan Regional Airport Authority Board.

American Electric Power, Lakeland Health and Whirlpool Corp. among other companies use the airport.

According to Herald-Palladium archives, control of the airport was given to the authority board in 1998 – which was formed from the millage from Benton Harbor, St. Joseph and Lincoln and St. Joseph townships.

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 Aug. 3, 2016)

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