Berrien County Commissioners sign resolution asking state to restore county revenue share

BERRIEN COUNTY – Berrien County Commissioners passed a resolution Thursday morning to communicate to state of Michigan leaders their will to restore county revenue sharing funds and to provide a one-time payment of a cumulative shortfall to the county.

Broadband plans for underserved areas of Berrien County that are moving forward with one internet company were also presented to the commissioners on Thursday.

The first resolution passed with 11 votes on Thursday, with Robert Harrison absent from the vote.

“The Michigan Association of Counties is encouraging county leadership across the state to put forth some type of resolution to ask the state of Michigan to not forget that as these stimulus dollars pass through Lansing’s coffers, to not forget that counties have lost out on a significant amount of revenue sharing,” said Berrien County Administrator Brian Dissette. “It would be very appropriate to reimburse those counties for lost dollars.”

The resolution passed stated the Michigan Association of Counties had done “extensive research into county revenue sharing has had on county allocations.”

The resolution stated that “the state of Michigan had shorted 60 counties more than $110 million between 2009 and 2014.”

Of that, Berrien County requested its shortfall of more than $1,590,000 be reimbursed.

The departments impacted by county revenue sharing include the Berrien County courts, prosecutor, sheriff and county jail, county clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, drain commissioner, administration and animal control.

Prior to the consent agenda vote, commissioners had a presentation from Mercury Broadband about initiatives in the Berrien County area.

Matthew Sams, chief of staff with Mercury Broadband, gave a presentation before the consent agenda was addressed by the commissioners.

“Both Mercury Broadband and Midwest Energy have gone after Federal Communications Commission funds, and have been awarded funds for Berrien County,” Dissette said. “They’re going to have broad coverage for all over Berrien County, but [Mercury Broadband] was awarded funds in separate areas of the county [from Midwest Energy].”

Sams said Mercury Broadband is currently working on multiple objectives within Berrien County. One is to provide a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speed and three megabits upload speeds, what the FCC deems as a minimum to be labeled broadband, to get underserved portions of the county connected to the internet. This will be done in conjunction with an FCC initiative program.

The minimum for broadband connectivity is 25 MBPS upload by 3 MBPS download, but Sams said Mercury Broadband is aiming to deploy 100 MBPS download and 20 MBPS upload speeds in many locations.

“From the FCC’s perspective, [that will be] supporting roughly 697 locations that they determined were underserved based on reporting done annually to the FCC,” Sams said. “Those are set to begin in quarter three [of 2021]. We are already mobilizing our equipment and staff and executing lease agreements.”

While some parts of the county will see faster connectivity through the first phase of the initiative, which Sams said is set to go live around September. The bulk of the connectivity infrastructure will be executed in quarters two and three of 2022.

Another grant Mercury Broadband applied for was the Connecting Michigan Communities.

“Those grants funded location at roughly 635 homes that are not part of the Connect America Phase 2 initiatives, that were deemed underserved or unserved with no access to adequate broadband,” Sams said.

Sams had service maps to show commissioners where some of these internet services would be delivered. Small pockets of areas to be served with Mercury Broadband’s services sat between Niles and Buchanan, north of Niles and closer to Lake Michigan.

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