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Bridge millage request in the hands of Ferrysburg voters

Marie Havenga • Nov 3, 2017 at 10:00 AM

FERRYSBURG – On Tuesday, Nov. 7, besides picking a new mayor and deciding who will serve on City Council, Ferrysburg voters will decide the fate of an up-to-3-mills millage request for 20 years to fund the replacement of the Smith's Bayou bridge.

If voters approve the measure, each mill levied would amount to an extra $100 a year for the owner of a $200,000 house. 

Each mill would generate an additional $170,000 per year for the city, or $3.4 million over the length of the levy. If all 3 mills are levied, it would bring in $10.2 million, not factoring in changes in taxable values over the two decades.

“Right now, the engineer's recommendation is that it be replaced,” City Manager Craig Bessinger said of the bridge.

The estimated cost for the bridge work is $10 million. Engineering costs could add another $2.5 million.

The city applied for a state grant that, if approved next fall, could fund 85 percent of the project. If the grant request is denied, the millage money would help pay for the bridge repairs, Bessinger said.

“We would just not levy it if the grant is successful, or we would reduce the amount,” Bessinger said. “It would have to be determined what the grant amount would be and all that kind of stuff.”

Mayor Dan Ruiter said the city has applied for grants in the past and not been successful.

“We are hoping that we will be approved soon for at least a small portion of the needed funds,” Ruiter said. “The council believes it is a serious problem and we need to do due diligence in planning a way to finance the cost of this very expensive project.”

Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg, who is competing with Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Hopp for the mayoral seat in next week’s elections, was the only person on the City Council to vote against seeking the millage. Sjoberg said she doesn't think council has enough information yet to warrant asking for additional tax money for the bridge.

The bridge was built in 1972, according to Bessinger.

“We've done general maintenance on it,” he said. “Back in 2008, we put a new deck and asphalt on it and did some pier repair.”

Bessinger said if the millage fails, he and city leaders will still have to find funds to pay for the bridge work.

“We're going to keep trying to look for funding opportunities, whether it's grants, millage or a combination of both,” he said. “The engineer recommends it needs to be replaced. She's the expert and we have to find a way to make it happen.”

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