An important millage renewal request is on the Nov. 3 ballot titled “Local Streets Roads, Highways, and Bridges Repair and Improvement Millage Renewal.”
Local roads are publicly-owned assets requiring preventive maintenance and timely repairs. Maintaining our transportation assets is like maintaining our homes and vehicles. We invest in improving our vehicles and homes annually. All valuable assets require care, maintenance and repair.
Historically, our road and utility infrastructure are insufficiently maintained due to underfunding. This is evident with the sewage overflows into West Bay earlier this year. The City is developing short- and long-term improvements to ensure this never happens again. Our transportation infrastructure has also been insufficiently maintained due to underfunding. The governor’s campaign promise to “fix the damn roads” was predicated on the poor condition of Michigan’s roads. Recently, bonds were sold to fund road transportation improvements, but the bonds will fund improvements for state highways only (Think: U.S. 31, M-72) — not local city and county roads.
Note that property taxes do not fund road improvements or maintenance. The road commission doesn’t receive funding from property taxes without a special millage. A special 1 mill road millage was approved by voters in 2013, renewed in 2016 and is on the Nov. 3 ballot for renewal through 2024. The wise use of our road millage funds from the past seven years is evident throughout the county. Major improvements were completed on our transportation network, but more work needs to be completed to maintain the extensive infrastructure that serves our growing community of residents and businesses. The pandemic increased interest for families and businesses to relocate into our community from big cities downstate.
Although the fuel tax increased in 2017 to account for historic underfunding, more fuel efficient vehicles, electric vehicles and the lack of driving due to the pandemic will continue reducing fuel tax revenues for local roads. The 2017 increase in vehicle registration fees will compensate for some of the reduction in fuel tax revenues. Here is a summary of annual fuel tax fees and other vehicle fees published by MDOT Fast Facts in 2019: “The typical Michigan car owner driving an average of 15,000 miles a year, the total state and federal road-user fees are $435 a year. That’s $1.19 a day, or 2.9 cents per auto mile.” Eighty-three counties share 35 percent of road user fees and 531 cities and villages share 20 percent of these fees. The remaining 45 percent of road user fees are used for state highways and public transit.
This ballot proposal to renew the 1 millage for funding improvements to our city and county roads is a good investment to maintain our valuable transportation assets. The assessed value of my home is $120,000 and it will cost $120 a year, less than 1 cent per mile based on 15,000 miles per year, to fund improvements for roads I use daily. This millage proposal is a bargain.
Vote “yes” to fund improvements for the roads we need to travel for groceries, appointments, work, school and recreation in our great county.
About the author: Thomas Larabel retired from Ferris State University this year as professor emeritus in the College of Engineering Technology. He and his wife Alison have been Traverse City residents for 12 years.