County board approves veterans ballot language

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board unanimously approved ballot language Tuesday for a November general election millage request to fund a new county Veterans Affairs Department.

“I think it’s long overdue in Marquette County and it’s the right thing we ought to be doing,” said Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin.

Voters will decide the issue in the fall.

On July 15, the board voted to put the millage question on the Nov. 4 general election ballot “for the purpose of creating and maintaining a county Department of Veterans Affairs, which will provide support and assistance to veterans residing in Marquette County.”

The board said previously the millage would be used to fund at least one full-time veterans affairs counselor. The county would provide office space free of charge for the new department.

Only the amount necessary to fund the department, up to 0.1 mills, would be levied at the discretion of the county board. The request seeks the levy for 10 years. If fully levied, the millage would be expected to generate an estimated $228,000 during its first year.

Marquette County Administrator Scott Erbisch said a projected annual budget for the Veterans Affairs Department was estimated at $130,000, assuming the counselor hired was a county employee.

Erbisch’s budget anticipated an annual salary of $45,000 for the full-time counselor and $16,000 for part-time clerical support. He said discussions with other counties have suggested average pay for a full-time counselor was $40,000.

The board placed the ballot language issue on Tuesday’s meeting agenda, hoping to approve language in time to meet an Aug. 12 deadline to file ballot proposals for the general election. The ballot language was drafted by county staff.

Commissioner Steven Pence said he’d been asked why it had taken so long for the county to act on the issue. Pence said the issue was recently brought to the board by veterans.

“We’re happy to be doing it,” Pence said.

The Marquette County Veterans Alliance asked the county board to consider creating the department because it said Marquette County was one of only a handful of counties in Michigan – and the only county in the Upper Peninsula – without a county veterans affairs department and counselor, while Marquette County has more veterans than any other U.P. county.

George LaBlonde III, interim chairman of the alliance, thanked county administrative staff, legal counsel and the county board for their work on the issue Tuesday.

“It’s going to help not only the veterans in this county, but their families,” LaBlonde said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.