Keeping the grass roots growing!!
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BY JEFF HOGAN
810-452-2640 • firstname.lastname@example.org
November ballot may include 1.85-mill, four-year proposal
MAYFIELD TWP. — The writing is on the wall. State lawmakers and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have been unable to agree on a permanent funding mechanism to fix the darn roads — including those here in Lapeer County, so local road officials are prepared to go it alone with the help of taxpayers to get the job done.
They hope to put shovels in the ground on local road projects if a 1.85-mill, four-year proposal drafted by leadership at the Lapeer County Road Commission is approved next fall. Efforts are underway to place the funding initiative on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Road Commission Director Rick Pearson and Superintendent Zeb Schons are frustrated they’re at a place where they’re again considering another countywide road millage. A November 2014 proposal, that also sought 1.85 mills, but for six years, was defeated 15,562-13,150.
“We hate the fact that we have to look at a millage,” said Schons, “but we just feel we owe it to the people. We have to try something, because we can’t wait on the State to do anything. It hasn’t happened yet.”
Whitmer in January announced she was done waiting for the Republican-controlled Legislature to develop a long-term funding solution to fix the state’s aging highways and bridges and instead opted to sell $3.5 billion in bonds to finance roadwork. Whitmer initially announced a 45-cent gas tax proposal that would go directly to road funding, but GOP leaders said her plan was a non-starter with their members and much of the public alike and it went nowhere. The problem with Whitmer’s bond plan, according to local officials, is that it will do nothing to help the Lapeer County Road Commission maintain and upgrade the 1,310- plus miles of county roads it’s responsible for. Whitmer’s bond proposal only allocates money to state trunklines. Over the course of the next three years, the only bond money to be spent in Lapeer County will go toward two projects on I-69.
Coupled with that reality, and that Lapeer County roads aren’t going to fix themselves without a funding source Pearson, Schons and the Road Commission’s chief financial officer Linette Weston sat down with The County Press last week at the road authority’s main yard and administrative offices on Davis Lake Road in Mayfield Township to explain their proposal. The plan received favorable reviews from township officials at a recent meeting where the proposal was shared.
A big change from the November 2014 proposal, said Road Commission officials, is that the current proposal is two years less than the proposal that was defeated by 2,412 votes six years ago. Also significant and appreciated by township officials, is that the current millage proposal would be a 70/30 split with 70% of funds going to township and village roads and 30% to primary county roads.
“Seventy-percent of funds generated in a township would stay in that township,” said Schons. Additional funds generated, should the November millage pass, would be held by the Road Commission to be available to be used by the townships for road maintenance and improvements only.
“It would totally be up to the townships to spend money on what roads and projects they thought most important,” said Schons. As proposed, the Road Commission would work with the townships every year to evaluate their asset management plans and available funds — part of a five-year plan to be developed by the Road Commission with every township to best allocate money to the most pressing projects.
Passage of the 1.85-mill proposal would generate an additional $5.9 million in annual revenue to be distributed, with the guidance and direction of local officials, to the county’s 18 townships. The Road Commission’s fiscal year budget for 2020 is $17 million, or $13,072 per mile.
“We’ll continue to function as a road commission if this doesn’t pass,” said Schons. “We’ll do the best we can to maintain the roads with the money we have.”
Pearson echoed the resolve to upgrade local roads to be the smooth, safe roads the public has been demanding for years — though the funding has never been enough to keep up with the deteriorating condition of many roads. “Every penny you pay in this (proposed) tax stays in this county,” he commented.
Pearson added, “We have to prove ourselves in four years. It (millage money) gives us a chance to show people the investment in their roads.” He’s hopeful county residents will be impressed with roadwork they see happening within the townships, improving odds the millage would be renewed in four years.
A committee will be organized, comprised of local residents, township officials and business-people, to review the 1.85- mill proposal. The committee, its members to be named by April, will use that month and May to review the Road Commission’s millage proposal to determine if they agree with their figures. The committee will then formalize the ballot language to be submitted by Aug. 11 to the Lapeer County Clerk’s Office. The same group will also be responsible to promote and advocate for the proposal, raising money for yard signs and advertising as one of their chief functions.
If passed, revenue from the proposed November ballot initiative would be used exclusively for maintenance and reconstruction of county roads and bridges. It could not be used for staff salary, for new trucks, road graders or excavators or other day-to-day operating expenses.
With a 1.85-mill in place, a Lapeer County property owner with a taxable value of $150,000 would pay an additional $277.50 per year.