Above, One resident, seen here, argues that if the millage is passed Lansing will turn their cheek, allowing the responsibility to fall to taxpayers, rather than the state being forced to handle the road infrastructure.
By Christine MacIntyre
Grass Lake Charter Township’s November 3rd ballot will include a township road improvements millage and bond proposal. While most residents can agree that the roads carrying people to and from work, school, and home are in dire need of attention, there is more to be said about what the millage entails and what it will mean for the residents living within the township.
All that could be said was discussed at Monday night’s public informational meeting in the pavilion at Events Park in downtown Grass Lake. Residents gathered, sprinkled with the likes of Township Supervisor Jim Stormont, Village President Joe DeBoe, along with other prominent community figures, to hear details of the proposal directly from the Jackson County Department of Transportation (JCDOT).
JCDOT’s Christopher Bolt, assistant county administrator, and managing director spoke. “We here from Jackson County are not here to tell you how to vote – we are here to inform you the pros and cons of it – what it means if you vote no, what it means if you vote yes.”
The total cost of improving all local roads in Grass Lake Charter Township is estimated to be approximately $26,291,689. If approved, the bond proposal would authorize the township to issue bonds for $19,575,000, which includes bonding costs. These funds represent the 70 percent match required for local roads and 100 percent of the funds required for streets within the village. The county will provide the additional 30 percent required for county local roads. The proposed millage, a tax based on property value, is 4.12 mills for a period of 21 years, equating to $4.12 per $1,000 of taxable value.
Grass Lake Charter Township Supervisor Jim Stormont addresses concerns during Monday night’s public information presentation regarding the proposed road millage.
The proposed millage will revitalize all of the local roads, bringing them up to desired, maintainable and safe conditions within the next three to four years, beginning in 2021. According to JCDOT, the Michigan Transportation Fund, generated from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, is the primary revenue source allocated to maintenance and improvement of the county’s road system. While funding has increased over the last five years, the 2015 legislation did not provide enough funding to maintain and improve all roads. In addition, construction materials and costs have continued to increase – a $100,000 project in 2003 is now a $200,000 project. Roads continue to deteriorate, requiring more funds to fix them.
During the meeting, the language ‘local roads’ came under scrutiny, as residents feel it is misleading. Michigan uses three general classifications for county roads: state, primary, and local. State road improvements are the responsibility of the Michigan Department of Transportation. Primary roads in the township are improved using funding from the Michigan Transportation Fund revenues, along with grants from federal and state sources. Meanwhile, county policy requires matching funds to improve local roads. While some counties provide no matching fund for local road projects, Jackson County currently provides a 30 percent match.
In addition, Jackson County’s Michigan Transportation Fund revenue cannot be utilized for streets within the Village of Grass Lake; however, the village’s funding is not sufficient to properly maintain all their streets. The millage proposal offers a unique partnership between the county, township, and village to improve all local roads and village streets in Grass Lake Charter Township.
Residents express their concerns at Monday’s meeting.
One question voiced was, “I already pay high property taxes, why can’t the roads be fixed with that money?” Grass Lake Charter Township tax collection does not have an allocation specifically for roads. Property taxes are applied to items such as schools, animal control, senior services, county parks, Lifeways, police and fire protection, and the local library system; however, the taxes residents pay are not applied to the roads. The millage would allow roads to be added into the equation.
In the event the millage does not pass, roads will continue to deteriorate and will become even more costly to fix in the future. The cost of construction is expected to continue rising, along with general inflation.
Grass Lake Charter Township Trustee Tina Bednarski-Lynch presented the question: With about 32 miles of primary roads within the township that will not be included in the millage, what can the people expect that live on primary roads? “If they’re going to be paying, they should have very nice roads like the secondary and gravel roads as well,” she said.
Bolt responded, “To be frank and honest, we don’t know what Lansing’s going to do with funding. There’s so much that’s unknown right now. What we can do, is give you the commitment that we’re going to prioritize grant applications and do our best to get funding for the projects. We care about them as much as you do.”
Communities such as Spring Arbor, Summit, and Blackman Townships have implemented a similar millage.
Taxpayers express confusion and concern regarding the exclusion of primary roads – questions arose as to what is and is not a local or primary road. JCDOT reiterates they do not make that designation.
“We, in tandem, made a promise to prioritize their county roads as money becomes available. They are now well-positioned as a result of their decision,” said Bolt. This is a testament and assurance to what JCDOT promises for primary roads within Grass Lake Charter Township, as these townships’ primary roads have been and are being prioritized.
Bolt noted that the opportunity to improve roads through a millage is at a record low-interest rate – one that will likely increase in the near future.
“We are at a good crossroads right now. There’s no time like the present,” he said. “Otherwise, “we are kicking the can down the road.”
Reiterating the importance of the project for safety, the attractiveness of a community, and to take advantage of the favorable window of opportunity, Bolt stated, “We’re trying to build roads that last 50 years or more. It’s more than just cars and trucks getting where they need to be and commerce; it’s really about community space.”
The scope of the project including roads and recommended improvement plans for each, along with costs, can be found on Grass Lake Charter Township’s website, grasslakect.com. There is a discussion of another public informational presentation in early October for those who were unable to attend the first two.