Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 5, 2013

Roads tax question slated for November ballot

BY MICHAEL WALTON mwalton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Jack Viront thinks Grand Traverse County’s roads are in bad shape, but he won’t vote for a tax increase to fix them.

I’m tired of paying taxes,” Viront said as he filled his gas tank at the Meijer station on U.S. 31 one afternoon this week.

Many county residents echoed Viront’s sentiment, an indication that a Grand Traverse County Road Commission-proposed tax increase could be headed for a bumpy ride on election day next month.

Drivers in Michigan pay taxes for roads when they buy gas and when they register a vehicle with the Secretary of State. Viront, of Garfield Township, said that’s enough.

“I think this is fine, the way we have it now,” he said. “They’re always trying to find ways to get more money from us.”

The road commission’s three-year, 1-mill proposal to improve and maintain local roads originated after state lawmakers’ attempts to increase road funding — one of Gov. Rick Snyder’s goals for 2013 — stalled.

“Funding for roads in the state hasn’t changed since ‘97,” road commission Chair Carl Brown said. “With no increases, and it looks like Lansing isn’t doing anything, we think this is how we can fix the county road system.”

The millage would cost the owner of a home with $100,000 in taxable value $100 a year, if approved.

It would generate about $4.4 million annually, with $3.5 million going to the road commission, $750,000 to Traverse City, $27,600 to the Village of Kingsley and $11,300 to Fife Lake Village.

All that money would be earmarked for road repairs and maintenance, road board member Marc McKellar said.

Other tax-capturing entities, like brownfield authorities and downtown development authorities, would receive about $125,000 annually from the millage, county Treasurer Heidi Scheppe said. That money does not have to be spent on roads.

The road commission currently spends about $3.3 million on road maintenance each year. A successful millage would double that figure and start to make up for years of inadequate state funding, Brown said.

Only 20 percent of roads in the county are rated as “good”, based on the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating -- PASER -- system adopted by Michigan’s Transportation Asset Management Council, road commission Manager Jim Cook said.

A successful millage this year, and subsequent renewals of the millage thereafter, would provide funding to improve 80 percent of roads to a “good” rating over the next 20 years. An unsuccessful millage will double that 20-year timeline, Cook said.

Road commission officials will use an asset management plan -- a strategic plan to upgrade and maintain all roads in the county -- to determine how best to spend millage money.

A list of proposed projects for 2014 is available on the road commissions website. It includes 20 projects covering about 38 miles of roads in 10 townships with an overall estimated price tag of roughly $3.9 million.

Some of the big-ticket proposals on the 2014 list are three projects on Supply Road in Union, Whitewater and East Bay townships totaling $738,000; two on Karlin Road in Grant Township totaling $454,000; and a $430,000 Voice Road project in Paradise Township.

Road board member John Nelson said the asset management plan provides an objective tool for selecting future road projects based on “science” and the PASER ratings.

“Not based on the whims of any one commissioner or whatever,” he said.

But many county residents like Sally Swope, of Whitewater Township, said a 1-mill property tax increase is just too much.

“I don’t know anyone who would vote for that,” Swope said.

Swope lives on Elk Lake. She said she won’t vote for the millage because her property taxes are already high.

“If it was a small millage increase, that would be different,” she said.

Other voters think the millage is worthwhile.

Jennifer Warren, of Traverse City, said the proposed tax increase would be cheaper than fixing her car after it takes a beating on rough roads.

“I’ve probably spent almost $1,000 on tire repairs since this winter, so that sounds like a pretty good plan to me,” she said of the millage.