Millage renewal for Crawford County Road Commission placed Aug. 7 primary election ballot
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
With a possible solution of addressing the hot button issue for repairing local roads on the table, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners approved language for a millage renewal last week.
The board, at its regular monthly meeting held on Thursday, April 28, agreed to put a one mill proposal on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot for the Crawford County Road Commission. If approved by voters, the millage would be levied from 2019 to 2023. The millage was first approved by voters in 2008.
Earlier in the month, Maple Forest Township Supervisor Tom Coors and Grayling Charter Township Supervisor Rick Harland asked county commissioners to reconsider the millage.
At issue is that the Crawford County Road Commission utilizes the county millage to repair primary roads in the county. That, in turn, leaves funding to repair secondary roads up to the townships.
The road commission board has earmarked the funds for primary roads, since they can use the money as a local match to garner state and federal transportation funds to get more bang for the buck.
Township officials and citizens attended the last Crawford County Road Commission meeting on April 18 in an attempt to persuade road commissioners that they should be able to tap some of the funds.
Since then, road commission officials and township leaders have discussed developing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on how the funding should be spent.
Harland asked the county board to postpone putting the millage on the ballot until the Nov. 6 general election.
“I feel like we’ve already opened up the door for some conversation and it sounds like there may be some consideration to work with townships in regard to that,” Harland said.
Don Babcock, the managing director for the Crawford County Road Commissioners, said road commissioners felt caught off guard with protests on how the road funding is budgeted.
“We’ve always stayed true to our word on how this money was going to be used,” Babcock said. “We’ve never tried to deceive anybody.”
Not all township officials are on the same page regarding funding to repair local roads.
South Branch Township Supervisor Laurie Luck said local officials should not gamble by delaying putting the proposal before voters.
“If we hold off and don’t put this on the ballot until November, we’re taking a chance that it will not pass and we’re out of luck if the road millage doesn’t pass,” Luck said.
Lovells Township Supervisor Gary Neumann said a project to fix Twin Bridge Road is slated to take place in 2021 at a cost of $690,000. A total of $349,000 from road commission funds from the county millage has been budgeted for the project.
Neumann said splitting the funds up with other entities would delay the project.
“It’s terribly dangerous today and it will only get worse until then,” he said.
Babcock agreed that the Lovells project would be moved down the priority list of roads that need to be repaired.
“Of course it would be delayed, because we wouldn’t have enough money to do it,” he said.
Babcock further noted that the one mill proposal generates $532,878 per year.
“If it’s divided up between the road commission and all of the townships, there really isn’t going to be any money left over for the road commission or one township to do anything,” Babcock said.
Moving the debate forward, Crawford Commissioner Rick Anderson said that the county should stick to the original ballot language and schedule for the millage renewal.
“We all have a job and it’s not an easy job,” Anderson said.
As an alternative, Anderson suggested citizens in the townships circulate petitions in their specific areas. If a majority of residents agree to support the project, the road commission could seek bids for the project. The funding would then be placed on the tax bills of the property owners over a number of years.
“I think the taxpayers in the individual townships are the ones that are trying to have these things done and we have the ability to do that, but funds are going to have to come from the townships,” Anderson said.
Babcock reiterated that the road commission is only seeking renewal of the millage.
“That’s all we asked for,” he said.
Harland said projects to repair Roberts Road and roads in the Sherwood Forest subdivision have been shelved due to high costs.
“We, the township, and the residents had to shoulder the whole amount of money,” he said.
Anderson said road commission officials have their reasons to stay on course with budgets set for road repairs. He backed Babcock in his position on the millage proposal.
“He has a legitimate grip on how this works,” Anderson said. “He the guy that’s in charge of our purse strings as far as our roads.”
Luck said South Branch Township residents have passed a millage to repair roads within its jurisdiction. That millage is up for renewal on the Aug. 7 ballot.
“The people passed it with flying colors,” she said. “We’ve told them that the road commission only has so much money and it only goes so far.”
Luck further praised Babcock and the road commission for lending crews to assist with the projects in the township.
“He has always found ways to keep the cost down for us,” Luck said.
Harland said local officials could simplify the issue with more time and talk.
“We have always been led to believe that money was for primary roads – period – so that conversation never went any further,” he said.
Anderson urged township officials to come up with an equitable solution to resolve the road funding issue.
“I don’t want this millage to be a competition and move people off the dime and not get this on the ballot,” he said. “The negotiations can be done at any time.”
After taking all of the input regarding the millage, the Crawford County Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to put the proposal on the ballot.
Frederic Township Supervisor William Johnson said officials need to work together to get the millage passed.
“If we don’t have the money, we won’t have an MOU to talk about,” he said.