Archived Story

Everyone benefits from road millage

Published 10:01pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012

We know there is no public appetite for tax increases, but the road commission, through the Better Roads for Cass County Committee, makes a reasoned case for the five-year mill on Tuesday’s primary ballot.
We hope citizens are not shortsighted in considering their options.
Everyone uses primary roads, so everyone would benefit from these improvements.
The Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF) is the largest funding source. It is based on a 19-cent-a-gallon formula that has not changed since 1997.
With residents driving less because of gas prices and choosing more fuel-efficient vehicles, MTF funds received by Cass County decreased 10 percent over the last eight years including $501,189 in 2011 alone.
At the same time, the cost to blacktop a mile of county road with petroleum-based materials increased 108 percent during the same time frame, from $32,000 in 2002 to $82,000.
Like painting the monstrous Mackinac Bridge, by the time the road system is maintained, it’s time to start over at the beginning.
Ideally, road reconstruction revolves around a 15-year target, but Cass County’s actual life makes arteries last for 23 years.
Is there any prospect of receiving help from state or federal governments?
At the federal level, road commission manager Louis Csokasy advised the Board of Commissioners Feb. 16, force account work has been suspended for 90 days so the program can be evaluated, putting $700,000 in projects at risk this year.
In Lansing, it is expected no new funding laws will be taken up until after the November election, when Csokasy expects a “commercial corridor fund” tilted toward traffic counts in urban areas to be created to replace MTF, prompting his comment, “The solution to our road issues remains in Cass County.”
Also, recall that in his Oct. 26, 2011, speech on infrastructure, Gov. Rick Snyder stated, “Investment in local transportation infrastructure will help to grow local economies, but those investments need to be supported by revenue raised locally.”
Another protection for taxpayers is that if the state rebounds to where road funding improves, millage language is constructed so a lower rate can be levied.
Approval would generate $1.8 million, of which the Road Commission would receive $1.6 million, with the remainder divvied up between the city and villages of Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus and Vandalia. Dowagiac’s share would be about $90,000 annually.
We tend to take today’s road system for granted, but in 1960, a third of county primaries were gravel, including Hospital Street, Dailey Road, Born Street, Dutch Settlement, May Street, Robinson Road, Pine Lake Street and Gumwood Road. Roads past useful life cost three times more to bring back to standard.
Under the current funding structure, the Road Commission will be able to upgrade roads with daily usage averaging at least 2,000 vehicles, which addresses but 169 miles of a 269-mile primary network.
Based on the value of a median home in Cass County, property owners will pay an additional $45 per year, or about 85 cents per week.
What has changed since four years ago is that after shedding $895,234 in land and equipment, there is nothing left to sell to bridge the gap between rising costs and continued funding erosion.
The road commission, through attrition in the last five years, reduced its own workforce 29 percent, including seven shop positions and six office positions.
It quotes materials on a multi-county basis to secure lower prices, negotiated higher insurance co-payments and deductibles and entered shared work agreements with St. Joseph County, the City of Dowagiac and Cass County Sheriff’s Office to reduce overall costs.
It is a proposal that deserves support Tuesday.

This editorial represents the views of the editorial board.

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