TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County voters will soon decide whether to steer continued property tax funds to local roads, following a decision to park a millage renewal on the Nov. 3 ballot.
If passed, the 1 mill Local Streets, Roads, Highways, and Bridges Repair and Improvement Millage Renewal Proposal would start with the December tax bill and generate about $5 million per year over four years, road officials said.
Grand Traverse County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting putting the question on the ballot at their meeting Wednesday.
“I’m in full favor of good roads and I’m glad we’re doing a good job of making headway over what it was a few years ago,” said Commissioner Bryce Hundley.
From 2014 to 2020, the view out the windshield has been on the county’s primary road system, as the state’s asset management council requires, said Road Commission Manager Brad Kluczynski.
Going forward, funds will continue to be dedicated to maintaining these roads, along with bringing other roads up to speed, he said.
“We started out in a bad condition,” Kluczynski said at previous commission meeting. “We have made drastic steps to improve, far exceeding what the state has over-all, and this is mainly due to the fact that we have this road millage.”
The general condition of roads throughout the state have gone down in the past 8 years, Kluczynski said in a telephone interview Tuesday, while roads in Grand Traverse County have improved overall in the same time period.
“That’s largely because of the millage,” Kluczynski said. Almost all of the top tier counties, the ones at the top in the state in terms of road quality, have a millage.”
Without this funding fueling work on local roads over the past seven years, most would be in poor or close to poor condition, Kluczynski said.
Funds generated by a millage would continue to be divided among the Grand Traverse County Road Commission ($4 million), Traverse City ($1 million) and the villages of Fife Lake and Kingsley ($40,000), documents show.
The 2019 road millage generated $4,210,707.30 for the road commission, said County Finance Director Dean Bott.
The money from property taxes can only be used for repairs and improvements to existing roads and bridges and not for new infrastructure, Kluczynski said.
The road commission, he explained, has three primary sources of funds:
State of Michigan Act 51 funds, also known as Motor Transportation Funds, which come from the state’s weight and gas tax and vehicle registrations. MTFs are the road commission’s only source of operations funding.
Federal funds, generated from federal fuel taxes, are awarded annually based on specific projects. These were the funds that paid to fix Three Mile Road from Hammond to South Airport and will soon be used to repair a bridge on River Road, Kluczynski said. If the county were to build a new bridge over the Boardman River, it would be funded largely with these federal funds.
Finally, local millage funds are used exclusively for what’s called, in civil engineering parlance, “capital preventive maintenance” — keeping a road in fair to good condition to increase longevity — and “heavy maintenance” where the road is broken down and completely rebuilt.
The recent work on Birmley Road between Garfield and Keystone roads is an example of a heavy maintenance project paid for with millage funds, Kluczynski said.
A 1 mill millage is equal to $1 in property tax levied per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value.
This year MTFs were projected to be $12.5 million, though Kluczynski told Grand Traverse County Commissioners earlier this month, that figure was arrived at pre-COVID-19.
“Diesel fuel tax has not slowed down at all but gas tax is down drastically and preliminary forecasts say it could be up to $1 million hit out of the $12 million,” Kluczynski said. “The single largest expenditure out of that is for snow removal.”
That task costs the county about $3.5 million a year, he said. The cost of traffic signal work, pothole patching, brush removal and mowing also come from this fund.
“In terms of consistent funding the millage itself is huge for us, it really is,” Kluczynski said. “You’ll never catch up if you fix the worst roads first. You change the oil in your car, rather than wait for the engine to blow up.”
Millage funding consistency also allows the road commission to get good prices on contractor bids, he said.