Millage for Lake County Veterans’ Affairs Program to be on ballot
LAKE COUNTY — When voters go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 8, they will be asked to remember the county’s 1,174 veterans.
A millage proposal to provide funding for the creation, maintenance and operations of a Lake County Department of Veterans Affairs and to support eligible indigent veteran claims will be on the ballot.
If approved by voters, the millage will levy one-tenth of one-mill ($0.10 per $1,000) of state-equalized valuation for a period of six years, raising an estimated $58,028 the first calendar year to fund the Lake County Veterans’ Affairs Office and support for indigent veteran claims.
Currently, veterans have to travel to neighboring counties to receive serves from Veterans Affairs offices. Veterans services in Lake County are overseen and provided by the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Commission and are limited to assistance in securing burial benefits for veterans families.
The veterans’ affairs program millage proposal would greatly expand services to Lake County’s nearly 1,200 veterans, according to Lake County Administrator Tobi Lake.
“There is currently no regular staffed office within the county to provide assistance. Many veterans are eligible to receive federal and state benefits such as disability compensation, education benefits, vocational rehabilitation, health care benefits and survivor and dependent benefits,” Lake said.
The Soldiers and Sailors Relief Commission is a board of three members appointed by a judge, in accordance to 1899 law.
In this law, the county shall levy up to one-tenth of one-mill for veterans who served in war, or their spouses and children.
In a law dating from 1952, the Lake County Board of Commissioners is statutorily empowered to created a county department of veterans’ affairs to assist veterans in securing benefits and other services.
If the millage proposal is approved, the veterans’ affair office would take over the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Committee and will form a three-to-five member veterans’ affairs committee appointed by Lake County Commissioners.
“Some of the things the veterans’ office will deal with are veterans’ burial needs,” Lake said. “If veterans are indigent and need food, assistance will come through the veterans’ affairs committee. The director will be a liaison of the three levels of government, at the federal, state and local level to provide benefits such as personal compensation, educational and vocational employment and medical care.
Lake said there has been a push for a veterans’ affairs office, but the county was waiting to see if a grant program would pass, allowing a minimum of $25,000 in funding for eligible counties to create a veterans affair office. Lake said the county still has to apply for the grant, but feels it is likely they will receive it.
“A grant program passed this year allowing maybe $1,000 to $2,000 more than $25,000 to create a veterans’ affairs office and hire a certified employee to work at least 20 hours a week at this office.
“The $25,000 could fund the office, and if the millage passes, we could fund any shortages the grant doesn’t cover and we would have money to help indigent veterans who served during wartime,” Lake added. “The millage would raise about $58,000 a year, and if we don’t need that much, we can always roll back.”
“We met with Paul Griffith, of Michigan Works in Baldwin. He offered space to house the veterans’ affairs office at Michigan Works.
“There is synergy in this option — while veterans are looking for jobs, they can receive other services there. Hopeful voters will approve this millage in November. This will not be levied until next year, Dec. 1, 2019, for tax bills available for 2020.”
If the proposal passes, the county then will come up with a job description and criteria for the director, pay structure and 20 hours of office availability.
It is possible the county would share a veterans office director with another county, and that may impact when someone is available, Lake added.