Voters decline library millage, pass EMS, COA, 911

OSCEOLA COUNTY — More than 3,000 voters expressed their opinions on Aug. 5 at the ballot box for a number of local millage proposals, and all but one was approved.

Voters rejected both Reed City Area District Library proposals on election day, with 471 voting no, while 427 voted to approve the operation millage, and 496 individuals rejected the renovation millage, while 396 individuals voted in favor.

"It was a close margin," said library director Heather Symon. "We saw a lot of library support. The library has not had to ask for the community's help before, so this is a new idea."

Comments and feedback are coming in from residents, she added, and all are being heard. Some individuals are hoping both proposals can be on the November ballot, but Symon said the renovation proposal cannot legally be on a 2014 ballot. Future proposal endeavors, however, will be taken into consideration.

Library operation needs are key, Symon added, with funding dropping and having to rely on the operating reserve more in recent years. In addition, the library's lease at the Annex Building expires in 2016 and renovation at the future site on Chestnut Street still needs to be completed.

Despite the setback, library officials are looking ahead and taking a proactive, yet cautious stance.

"We're always seeking grants, but we cannot count on that revenue to complete the project," Symon said. "We're also looking to do more fundraisers within the community. We will continue to be proactive and we want to listen to what people have to say.

"The needs are very straightforward. Supporting the library is a choice that is going to impact the children and grandchildren of voters."

Osceola County EMS

Voters accepted the Osceola County Emergency Medical Services proposal, with 2,483 voting in favor of the millage and 1,034 voting against it. Now, the county will 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.

"I'm excited about it," said Osceola County EMS Director Jeremy Beebe. "I was surprised by the majority. It's nice to know how much support EMS has."

Equipment purchases, ambulance purchases and maintenance, personnel and general operations costs will be covered with the added revenue, along with two additional ambulances. It also will allow the operation of four EMS stations within the county, the purchase of six new cardiac monitors to replace current monitors and maintaining current revenue levels as insurance reimbursement declines.

Beebe also said further planning can begin on building a station in the county's northwest quadrant. Already, county commissioners are considering two sites within the Tustin and LeRoy areas.

Tammy Stoner, Osceola County commissioner and EMS Ad Hoc Committee chair, expressed her joy after hearing the final results.

“I am very excited,” she said after the votes were tallied. “I am just so happy for the people of the northwest quadrant and I’m pleased to enhance the services in the county.”

Osceola County COA

The Osceola County Commission on Aging millage also passed, with 2,676 individuals voting yes and 809 voting no.

"I am extremely excited," said COA Executive Director Scott Schryer. "It's nice to see the support for what we're doing and how we're moving forward. It's a great step to continue our services."

The millage 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. In addition, it 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.

The millage is the first in more than a decade, and Schryer takes pride in the fact the organization is frugal with its budget and has been able to grow its programs without asking for additional funding until this year.

Currently, the COA serves about 10 percent of the 5,500 seniors in Osceola County, but the number could increase in the future, Schryer said.

"The need is definitely out there," he added. "As word spreads, we pull more people in and our costs go up."

911 Surcharge Renewal

Voters in Osceola County also passed the 911 surcharge renewal proposal 2,012 to 1,380.

The surcharge begins on July 1, 2015, and lasts through December 2021.

Meceola Central Dispatch coordinates emergency services in Mecosta and Osceola counties, and relies on the surcharge for its funding rather than on a tax or millage. The surcharge will affect those who use landlines, cellphones and cable phone (VOIP) services.

The surcharge is the organization’s only source of funding. Residents in both counties pay $2.25 on their phone bills each month for the surcharge, which is collected by service providers and divided between the state, Central Dispatch and service providers.

“It affects every person in both counties,” Mecosta County Administrator Paul Bullock previously told thePioneer. “Without the system we have in place now, we’d be taking a tremendous turn back to yesteryear when it was much more difficult to get people where they needed to be.”

LeRoy Fire Chief Mark Gregory, chair of the Central Dispatch Board, said residents would see a reduction to the emergency services they receive if the surcharge did not exist. Without GPS capability, for example, Central Dispatch would not be able to locate residents in need of assistance who called from a cellphone, he said.

“The surcharge is truly just for operations,” he said. “Without it, we could run into trouble without the advanced 911 services that we have now.”

Herald Review Staff Writer Lonnie Allen also contributed to this article