Grand Traverse County residents can’t afford to gamble with their infrastructure debt payments.
That’s why we can’t agree with the effort to catalyze change at the Grand Traverse County Road Commission through voting against the county’s road repair and improvement millage renewal on Nov. 3.
We support the millage, and the benefits it provides to our community. And failing to renew the tax puts the future upkeep of essential infrastructure in jeopardy.
In many ways we understand complaints levied against the road commission by members of the group CARS (the organization campaigning against the millage). The board’s governance — five commissioners who serve six-year terms and are appointed by Grand Traverse County commissioners — leaves the public little recourse to change the status quo.
CARS’ leaders have argued that their effort has little to do with road quality — instead they contend voting down the millage is meant to send a message to road commissioners who, like their predecessors did time and again during the past 30 years, decided to hire consultants to study Boardman River bridges. This time the board chose to spend $1.2 million on an examination of the viability and potential benefit of an additional crossing — a study that will take at least the next couple of years, and is a prerequisite for federal funding. That study would need to be followed by another one to vet any specific crossing site.
It’s a years-long process that could be abandoned, adjusted or redirected at several junctures prior to any shovel hitting soil.
But killing a millage that has broadly provided a quality of life improvement for most Grand Traverse County residents since 2014 simply isn’t the path to that end. And let’s be clear, we are talking about quality of life for the majority of county residents who spend any time commuting.
Most of the people who work in Traverse City and the surrounding halo of commercial and industrial areas simply can’t afford to live walking distance from the time clock.
That proximity problem means tens of thousands of our neighbors depend upon roads that have been rebuilt, or resurfaced during the past six years thanks to that millage money. And many of those same roads will need recurring upkeep in the next few years to prevent them from crumbling.
The 1-mill levy we approved in 2014, and renewed in 2016 is not a bargaining chip. No, it’s a debt payment county taxpayers decided was necessary to ensure our statewide infrastructure neglect doesn’t pound our roadways into dust.
Killing that millage provides no guarantees the Grand Traverse County Road Commission will entertain, much less heed, the demands presented by CARS members. Heck, in the worst case, we lose a beneficial millage, and the confrontation cements the board’s resolve to charge forward with a bridge project regardless of the outcome of the soon-to-be-started study process.
Instead, deconstructing hard-won millage support for our roads would mean reconstruction projects like those on Supply, Williamsburg, Hammond, Potter, Keystone, Five Mile and High Lake roads would become much less frequent.
The members of CARS, a group of thoughtful, community-minded folks, could much better serve Grand Traverse County by working to reform our road commission’s governance.
A 2012 law supported by former Gov. Rick Snyder allows county commissions to disband county road commissions and make roads a county department. That mechanism was created to fix the accountability gap CARS members cite as reason to kill the county road millage.
We would consider supporting such a change that would bring road oversight closer to voters, that would make officials we elect immediately responsible for our biggest infrastructure investments.
But we simply can’t support a campaign that asks us to gamble with our infrastructure debt.