Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 11, 2013

Editorial: Commission must first earn voters' trust

Our View
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — Grand Traverse County’s road system is in rough shape. Too many county roads are considered poor to bad — up to 80 percent, according to a recent study — and too many are pitted and crumbling.

Bad roads mean more than inconvenience and eyesore. They can affect quality of life, boost vehicle repairs costs, and hurt property values.

Reasons for local rocky roads are legion, and range from winter’s pavement-chewing, freeze-thaw cycle to declining state and federal revenues to county officials’ historically mediocre planning and execution of a long-range strategy for road maintenance and upgrades.

Grand Traverse County’s Road Commission is charged with managing and maintaining local roads, but agency officials — particularly those on the administrative and appointed board levels — developed a deservedly bad reputation for squabbling, personal agendas and political chicanery.

Now there are signs of positive change among road commissioners and their administrators. But it’s too soon to determine whether the commission’s trail to solid leadership and well-considered road maintenance is built of sand or concrete.

Thus, it’s also too soon to endorse the road commission’s plea for county taxpayers to hand over an estimated $4.4 million annually over three years to upgrade and maintain county roads, a request voters will consider at the ballot box Nov. 5.

The millage plan unfolded this year after county commissioners rejected the road commission’s request for a bonding plan. The county board faces its own financial woes and told the road commission to fend for itself. So the road board looked to Leelanau County, where residents always pony up for a road commission-specific millage, and decided to ask Grand Traverse residents to do the same.

To the commission’s credit, they’ve developed a strategy to review and rank county roads. The system they’ve adopted, dubbed PASER, indicates only 20 percent of county roads are in good shape, and most fare poorly.

The road commission believes a millage will expedite their ability to fast-track road repairs. Officials also identified roads in immediate need of work and pledged to publicly share their road-ranking and repair plan.

But it’s doubtful tax-weary and — wary voters are going to go along, at least this year.

The road commission in 2014 likely will have to continue to rely on state registration and fuel taxes, as well as federal money and additional cash received for plowing and maintaining state roads. They should use that year to prove that new leaders and new strategies are effective and worthy of taxpayers’ trust — and their dollars.