Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 4, 2013

Road millage could be on ballots

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

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse voters could soon face a road millage proposal.

Grand Traverse County Road Commission Manager Jim Cook believes a millage is necessary in the next year or two in light of stagnant funding from the Michigan Transportation Fund and the growing costs of road repair and maintenance. Asphalt and gas alone have nearly tripled in price in the last six to eight years, said Cook, who added he’d like to see a 1-mill road levy.

The road commission board would decide whether to seek a millage.

“We are probably doing about one-third of what we use to do with the budget,” Cook said. “I just don’t see how we can keep that up.”

Road Commissioner Bill Mouser said there is no concrete plan in place for a millage, and other revenue options exist.

“We certainly don’t want to burden taxpayers with any more taxes, but we want them to get the best value for their road dollar,” Mouser said.

Mouser referred to Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposed infrastructure plans as a possible source of new revenue.

Snyder identified roads as Michigan’s “toughest single issue” in his recent State of the State address. He mentioned several options for garnering more road funding statewide, including increasing the gas tax and increased vehicle registration taxes.

Whether Snyder’s words will translate to more state money for roads should become increasingly clear this summer, Cook said. A road millage would greatly benefit Grand Traverse’s roads either way, he said.

A 1-mil levy would cost the owner of a home with a taxable value of $75,000 an additional $75 annually.

Millage money would be used for winter road maintenance, including snow removal, Cook said. The agency currently spends about 25 percent of its budget to that end.

A successful millage would free up cash for improvements projects. About 80 percent of the county’s 1,200 miles of roads are considered to be in poor condition.

Voters in Leelanau County have approved a road millage every other year since 1986. The .5 mil request was most recently approved by 77 percent of voters in August 2012.

The millage produces about $1.1 million, nearly 25 percent of the Leelanau County Road Commission’s core budget, said Joe Nedow, the commission’s finance manager.

It pays for overtime related to snow removal and equipment replacements. Left over millage money is used for maintaining existing roads.

Lee Bowen, chair of the Leelanau County Road Commission, said the millage lets voters weigh in on the quality of their roads services.

“That’s our report card,” Bowen said. “If we do our work, the people will support us.”

Grand Traverse County last floated a road millage in November 2010. That measure sought a 1-mil increase for four years. Voters rejected it by about 4,700 votes.