Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 20, 2010

GT millage would fund road repair

County seeks funds for road commission


TRAVERSE CITY — A tax bump to support road maintenance and repair doesn't bother Brenda Heerdt.

Heerdt, of Acme Township, likely will support the Grand Traverse County Road Commission's millage request in the Nov. 2 election. The commission wants 1 mill for four years, a levy that's expected to raise about $4.5 million a year.

"Overall, I don't mind a millage if it's for a good purpose," Heerdt said.

Garfield Township resident Kelly Donaldson isn't as warm to the proposal.

"To tell you the truth, I'm kind of tired of being overtaxed," he said.

The commission previously hadn't sought such a millage, commission Manager Mary Gillis said. Decreased federal and state funding, combined with "skyrocketing" material and supply costs, led commission officials to seek a new money source.

"It pretty much revolves around the shape of our county roads and what we can do to improve them," Gillis said.

The millage would cover a big hunk of the commission's budget, which generally ranges from $15 million to $17 million per year.

Overall road commission employee numbers are down from past years, Gillis said, and the commission has slashed spending whenever possible.

"We've already cut our operations to the bone," she said.

The commission recently gave 2.5 percent raises to its staff, including Gillis, whose salary topped $100,000 with the raise. But she contends that was a standard, budgeted cost-of-living increase that employees deserved.

"We try to maintain a living wage for everyone, and everyone is working harder," she said.

The commission hopes the millage will pass, but will make do if it doesn't. Gillis said it's "definitely" possible that less work will be done to repair and maintain county roads if voters say no.

"If it doesn't pass, we will do our best to perform our mission with the funds that are available," she said.

County residents expressed mixed opinions about the proposal. Garfield Township resident Butch Bisson said the area's "got enough potholes." He'd be willing to support the millage if it will mean real results.

"I'd pay a millage to keep it going if they're going to improve the roads, not just take" the money, he said.

Acme Township resident Jim Pupel likely will give his reluctant support.

"I'm not crazy about taxes being raised, but (repairs) have to come from somewhere," he said. "Someone has to pay for it."

Yvonne Trudell moved to Peninsula Township about a week ago from Pinckney. She said the roads there are terrible, and she's willing to support the Grand Traverse proposal in hopes of keeping roads around her new home in good shape.

"I'm one for paying the higher taxes," she said. "The roads here are much better than where I came from."

Coming Thursday: Leelanau County seeks recycling millage.