Leelanau County Board May Cut Child Services Tax

A contentious debate over the Early Childhood Services millage during a special meeting of Leelanau County Board on Monday.

Leelanau County Board Chairman William J. Bunek recommends the tax rate for the millage be set at zero. This would cancel the millage passed by voters in 2019. The millage was to last five years. Board members for the proposed change say they are not trying to eliminate the program.

The Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department is able to provide a variety of services, free to families, with the millage tax rate currently in place.

“What we know is without a doubt that early childhood prevention and intervention services are critical protective factors.” a county resident said during the meeting. 

A few of the services include home visits, playgroups and developmental assessments. It  can also provide support for breastfeeding moms or supporting families with mental illness and substance abuse or children with challenging behaviors. It is targeted for families with kids under six-years-old.

Leelanau County Meeting

Bunek says the proposed change is because he doesn’t see the need for funding as there was money left over from a late startup due to the COVID pandemic.

“That’s the reason I introduced zero because I didn’t believe we needed the funding for the next year at all,” Bunek says. “And we were looking at next September, at the millage rate, to see how much money was in there left after another year.”

During the meeting, BLDHD says COVID prevented them from providing the number of services they had initially hoped for the past year.

“This last year we had great ambitions but because of COVID we could not do as much as we wanted to do and therefore the invoices that the board receives are not as much as we anticipated so we are not asking for a dollar more than we actually spend.”

Two hours were given for public comment. Majority of residents are for keeping the millage at the same rate of 0.25. One resident claims the taxes per year at their property were no more than $40.

Many people claimed that it was unethical to go against the vote from November 2019 which passed by 99 votes.

Chairman Bunek recommends to move the Early Childhood Services millage to the full board at Tuesday’s regular meeting. The Leelanau County Board is expected to vote for the millage tax rate to be set to zero.