Veterans millage approved in Macomb County

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published August 3, 2016


MACOMB COUNTY — Nearly three-quarters of Macomb County voters pledged to support veterans with their pocketbooks Aug. 2 with the passage of an increased millage to support the Macomb County Department of Veterans Affairs and the Macomb County Veterans Affairs Commission.

The proposal, approved by 73.7 percent of Macomb County voters, will increase the 0.04 mill the county levies to pay for financial aid and services for county veterans and the administration of its two veteran departments to 0.069 mill for 2017 and 2018, and renew the higher millage for 2019-2022.

“This is very important,” said Tim Litz, senior vice commander of the VFW Bruce Post 1146 in St. Clair Shores. “That money goes out on Dunham Road to the Macomb County service officers to keep the staff up. Because of the amount of veterans in Macomb County, we need those service officers out there.”

The Macomb County Department of Veterans Affairs assists veterans in finding, applying for, receiving and maintaining veterans benefits. According to its website, its goals are to maximize the receipt of veterans benefits and reduce frustration and confusion associated with applying for things like burial allowance, dependency, medical requests and death pensions.

“We take out the guesswork and we walk them through the process of getting benefits from the VA (Veterans Affairs),” said Laura Rios, chief veterans services officer at Macomb County Veterans Services.

The department is only funded through the millage, she said, and it helped 53,827 veterans in Macomb County receive $271.57 million in benefits in the 2015 fiscal year. 

“All the money that they get recouped from the VA is their money. This is free,” she said of the services her department provides. 

Her annual operations cost about $1.3 million each year, depending on how many people need help, but the department also identified six projects it would like to work on with money from the millage: a counselor for veterans who are going through an employment boot camp, better transportation to the VA Hospital, a second office in a satellite location staffed by two service officers, to support the Veterans Treatment Court, and to support a pay raise for employees if the county pay study finds it is warranted.

“We do have transportation today, but it doesn’t cover everybody,” Rios said. “Volunteers drive it but can’t pick you up at your house.”

If a veteran needs a walker or a wheelchair, or is on oxygen and doesn’t have their own transportation to one of the pickup points, she said, they can fall through the cracks.

The department had a fund balance, but that will be depleted by the end of next year, which is why the county went back to the voters to ask for a higher millage.

“My day-to-day operation, without doing any of those (projects), I needed to ask for an increase,” she said. “Why ask for 50 cents today? Let’s look at where we want to be in the next five years.”

Litz said that military organizations like the VFW offer assistance, but cannot offer the same level of assistance as the county officers, who are certified. 

“I am not qualified to file a claim for somebody because I do not have the training,” Litz said. “Those people out there have the training. They’re wonderful people.”

The levy is expected to raise about $1.75 million in its first year and will cost the owner of a home with a market value of $100,000 and a taxable value of $50,000 about $3.45 a year.

Litz said that, as a veteran and commander of the post, he appreciates the support of the taxpayers. 

“It wasn’t going to cost each taxpayer that much more,” he said. “The Macomb County people are standing behind their veterans, too.”