It was north against south all over again as today brought another battle in Berrien County’s peaceful but persistent civil war.
Some residents who live in the southern portion of the county feel that government jobs and operations are being unfairly concentrated up north.
“When I first came to the county about 50 years ago, people would refer to the John Beers Road as kind of the Mason Dixon line of the county,” said Buchanan resident Don Ryman, a former Berrien County commissioner.
The latest unrest started with Berrien County’s search for a site on which to build a brand new animal control facility.
Ryman now lives about 12 miles from the current animal control facility near Berrien Springs but he says he would have to travel 27 miles to get to the new site at Napier and I-94.
“And if the shoe was on the other foot, I would like to see what they’d say, if we were bringing it all down to Niles and Buchanan, you’d get a different idea. They’re not being, they’re not being fair on this thing,” said Ryman.
Niles resident Jan Personette agrees. “Today, gas is very expensive, it’s pushing four bucks a gallon and if you don’t have a car, you got to pay somebody anywhere $10, $20 to get to the north end of the county or the animal control, that's crazy.”
Nonetheless, the Berrien County Commissioners today voted 7 to 2 to purchase the former Schroeder Motors dealership at Napier and I-94 in Benton Township for $1.9 million.
The property spans 26 acres and there is talk of a possible county services campus there that would consolidate the operations of the health department, and serve as the new home of Berrien Bus. “We do need new buildings, I understand that, I'm just looking out for my taxpayers,” said John Klimek, 12th District Berrien County Commissioner. “Where their money is going and why. Right now, I just don't see how this is fair. It’s just all heading north.”
9th District Commissioner Andy Vavra voted for the property purchase, although he also represents some south county residents. “I think that there is an argument there that it was farther north than the center, but there has been an exhaustive process over a couple years of looking for a site or other sites as alternatives. It really hasn’t come up.”
Supporters also say that while the Napier site may be farther away—it is actually easier to get to, given its proximity to I-94.
“A couple extra miles isn’t going to be a big concern, it’s how those roads are to drive on, how they’re maintained and I look at that in my final decision,” said Commissioner Vavra.