Local millages focus on emergencies, seniors, library

OSCEOLA COUNTY — As Aug. 5 approaches, residents across the county must decide how they will prepare to vote during the primary election.

County millages, as well as city millages, will be on the ballot. Here is a look at what voters can expect at the polls.

Osceola County

Osceola County Emergency Medical Services is one of two county-wide millages that will appear on the ballot.

The EMS proposal will ask voters to allow asking for the County of Osceola to levy up to 1.33 mill ($1.33 per $1,000 of the taxable value), from 2014 through 2019, creating an estimated annual revenue of $915,719 based on 2013 taxes. The funds will support the continued operation of the Emergency Medical Services ambulance services.

"In Osceola County, the population of people over the age of 60 has increased by 23 percent. The number of calls for service the EMS Department has responded to has increased 27 percent since 2005, and in 2013, the EMS department responded to 2,640 calls for service," said EMS Director Jeremy Beebe. "Expenses for the department continue to grow every year, though revenue is dependent on millage funds and ambulance usage fees. The county's general fund is not used to operate the department."

If the millage passes, the funds will be used to purchase equipment, as well as purchase and maintain ambulances, personnel and general operational costs. It also will add an additional ambulance to the fleet for 12 hours per day throughout the entire year, allow the operation of four EMS stations within the county, purchase six new cardiac monitors to replace current monitors that are 10 years old, and maintain current revenue levels as insurance reimbursement declines.

"If the millage is not approved, the service level that currently is provided by the EMS department could be reduced to match the reduction in revenue," Beebe said.

Commissioner Tammy Stoner is one of many who have played a supporting role in the quest for an EMS station in the county’s northwest quadrant. As EMS Ad Hoc Committee Chair, she hopes county residents will vote in approval.

“By passing the EMS millage request, the entire county will benefit because it will allow for an additional ambulance base and crew to be permanently placed in the northwest quadrant of the county,” she said. “(If it passes) I will feel as though I have accomplished a huge task on behalf of the people — not just for the people in the 2nd District — but the entire county.”

In relation to emergency services, voters also will see an operating surcharge renewal for Meceola Central Dispatch. Like a majority of 911 centers in Michigan, Central Dispatch receives no money from taxes or a millage. It is funded by a telephone surcharge, on cellular, landlines and Voice over Internet Protocol service telephone bills.

“This is not a tax,” said Terry Vogel, Central Dispatch technical manager. “It is a surcharge on devices that can dial 911. This is our only funding source.”

Residents pay a $2.25 surcharge each month on their phone bills, which is collected by service providers and divided up between the state, Central Dispatch and service providers. The surcharge method has funded the center since 1993. Approving this surcharge will fund Central Dispatch through December 2021.

The Osceola County Commission on Aging also has a millage for voters consider.

The COA proposal will ask voters to decide if the county should renew the levy up to 0.8 mill ($.80 per $1,000 of the taxable value), from 2014 through 2019, creating an estimated annual revenue of $550,808 based on the 2013 taxes. The funds will support the continued operations of senior citizens services through the Commission on Aging.

“We are hoping there is a great turnout for the August elections to support the senior millage, because if it is passed it allows us to continue the services we are able to offer, in turn allowing Osceola County residents to remain in their homes longer,” said Scott Schryer, executive director of the Commission on Aging. “Even though we have expanded our services since the first millage in 1986, we have never asked for more. The millage is approximately 60 percent of our total budget. With all the budget cuts that have come down over the past six or seven years from both the state and federal level, the COA has managed to make cuts without it affecting services.”

Extending the millage will allow the COA to offer one hour of personal care per week, two hours of homemaking every other week for those who live in a house, and one hour every other week for those in an apartment, as well as up to three medical transports anywhere in the state of Michigan per month. It also will help fund the Meals on Wheels program and congregate meal sites in Tustin, Marion, Reed City and Evart, and will fund in-home health aides.

“The intent of our services is to help seniors remain in their homes safely as long as possible,” Schryer added.

Reed City

A two-part millage for the Reed City Area District Library will be on the ballot for Reed City voters. The district consists of Reed City, Lincoln Township and Richmond Township.

If passed, the Reed City Area District Library millage will raise estimated revenues of $136,000 this year, which will be captured within the districts and given to the library. Then, a portion will be dispersed to the Reed City Downtown Development Authority and the Richmond Township Downtown Development Authority.

The operation proposal language will ask if the Reed City Area District Library can be authorized to levy a new additional tax annually up to 0.95 mill ($0.95 per $1,000) beginning in 2014 and continuing in perpetuity, to provide funds for all library purposes.

Passing the millage will allow the library to expand its services, access additional materials from other libraries and enable long-term funding. The cost would be 95 cents per year, per $1,000 taxable value.

The renovation proposal language will ask voters if the Reed City Area District Library can borrow up to $958,000 unlimited tax bonds to renovate an existing building for use as a library facility and related parking and site improvements.

If passed, the millage will create a permanent home for the library after the lease at The Annex expires in June 2016 and will enable the library to use $75,000 of grant funding. It also will enable building upgrades, including a teen area, utility upgrades and a larger community room with updated technology. The cost would be 44 cents per year, per $1,000 taxable value.

Both millages need to pass in order for the library to receive the $75,000 grant funding.

Local residents in support of the millages have formed a committee called Citizens for the District Library, and are trying to encourage voting in general, but preferably a "yes" vote on both proposals.

Committee member Christine Cox believes the library is beneficial to everyone because of the services it provides to all ages, including free internet and wi-fi, programs for children and other resources. The library helps promote family and community, she said, and having a local library helped convince her to move to Reed City with her family.

"The library is an important cornerstone in the community," Cox said. "It's really important for Reed City to continue to have a library."

Herald Review writer Lonnie Allen also contributed to this article