Voters to decide ballot issues for busing, roads, library, and veterans

Buses for Crawford County Transportation Authority

Crawford County voters will decide a millage proposal on the Tuesday, Aug. 7, primary election ballot to keep the Crawford County Transportation Authority buses rolling.
A .25 mill request to increase funding for the transportation system, better known as Dial-A-Ride, will be on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax would be levied from 2018 to 2020. It would generate $133,220 per year.
“That would help pay for a bus,” said Julee Dean, the executive director for the Crawford County Transportation Authority.
If approved, a property owner would pay 25 cents per each $1,000 in taxable value.
In 2009, President Barack Obama and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to try to help the nation overcome an economic recession.
A large lump of funding was allocated to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), which in turn passed the money down to 87 transit agencies located throughout the state.
“Everybody got buses,” Dean said.
The transportation authority has 18 buses. They become eligible for replacement after seven years and 250,000 miles.
“Nothing is newer than seven years, and most of them are over on the mileage, so we are past due,” Dean said.
As the buses travel throughout the county, especially in rural areas, they receive a lot of wear and tear.
“As they get older, they get more expensive to operate with having to fix them,” Dean said. “It’s rough on them. Those back roads, we have to travel on them, and it tears them apart.”
The transportation authority board is hopeful that MDOT will provide more funding in the future to replace buses in its fleet. But until then, they have to rely on local support.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Dean said.
One-way fares of 50 cents are charged for senior citizens, the disabled, and children. Adult fares are $1.
Dean said the transportation authority will not raise its rates. 
“All we’re going to do is hurt the people that need our service – that’s how we look at it,” Dean said. “We’re one of most affordable bus services left in the state.”
In June, Dial-A-Ride buses transported 4,700 passengers. It averages just less than 100,000 riders per year. When gas prices spiked in 2008-09, the ridership want up to 120,000 riders per year.
“It definitely affects us,” Dean said. 
Beyond transporting people to buy groceries, run errands, and get to medical appointments, Dial-A-Ride vans take residents Monday through Friday to  the Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City for treatments. Residents can also take the vans for mid-morning or overnight appointments at the Munson Medical Center in Traverse City at no cost.
Transportation is also provided to and from the Dialysis Services of Gaylord on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Vans also transport residents in nursing homes and assisted living care facilities  to medical appointments in  Traverse City, Gaylord, Prudenville, and Houghton Lake for non-emergency medical runs.
“Most of the time, that’s for people in wheelchairs because they have no way to get them there,” Dean said.
Since the Crawford County Transportation System was founded in 1976, the agency has never asked for a funding increase; however, the millage the agency collects has been rolled back due to the state’s Headlee Amendment, which requires millage rates to be reduced to account for inflation. 
When both millage rates are up for renewal in 2020, they will be combined into one funding proposal to fund transportation services.
“We  have never asked for an increase, and if we could get close to a mill, it would be just so helpful,” Dean said.
 
Crawford County road millage renewal
 
Crawford County voters will go the primary election polls on Tuesday, Aug. 7, to decide a millage renewal to help repair and maintain local roads.
The 1.00 mill tax, which would be levied from 2019 to 2023, would generate around $534,000 per year.
The funds would be used for the maintenance and repair of roads under the jurisdiction of the Crawford County Road Commission, including primary roads and local road improvements.
If approved, a property owner would pay $1 per each $1,000 in taxable value.
Don Babcock, the managing director for the Crawford County Road Commission, said the millage was used to repair and maintain primary roads in the past.
The Crawford County Road Commission, however, earlier this year opted to allocate funds for local road improvements in the townships.
“The road commissioners  wanted to reinstate the local road allocation policy that we used to have, and in this case, it would be $200,000 a year going to the local townships,” Babcock said. “It kind of gets divvied out depending on what their population is and how many miles of local roads they have.”
This year, $200,000 was given to Grayling Charter Township and South Branch Township. 
“They’re the only two townships that had something going,” Babcock said.
Roberts Road and roads in the Sherwood Forest Subdivision are being resurfaced in Grayling Charter Township. Dewitt Trail and High Road are being upgraded in South Branch Township.
The primary purpose of the road millage is to use local money to obtain federal and state transportation funds.
Two years ago, Wilcox Bridge Road from North Down River Road to Hartwick Pines Road was resurfaced and upgraded, when the Grayling Fish Hatchery Bridge was repaired through critical bridge replacement funds awarded to the county.
“That was a big improvement that nobody around here had to pay for,” Babcock said.
The road commission is part of a task force with other road commissions, cities and villages, and transportation authorities located throughout northeast Michigan. The Crawford County Road Commission receives state funds through the task force.
Current road projects underway utilizing state funds include: Four Mile Road from the west side of I-75, and Wakeley Bridge Road from Wakeley Bridge north to the intersection of North Down River Road.
Babcock explained that the road commission is about two years out from receiving increased state gas tax funds, which were approved by the Michigan Legislature in 2016 and went into effect last year. The tax will be allocated to the  Michigan Department of Transportation, road commissions, cities, and villages. In its first year, Babcock said that the state used gas tax dollars to pay off debt the state incurred to address road and bridge projects.
State lawmakers, however, have been making one-time funding allocations to local road commissions. 
Current projects underway which use millage funds and one-time funding from the state include: South Grayling Road from Dort Road, and from Fletcher Road to 7 Mile Road, plus culverts are being upgraded; County Road 502 from the south county line north to M-18; North Higgins Lake Road from Military Road to  U.S. 27; and to rehabilitate and repair pilings on County Road 612 over Big Creek.
The road commission is anticipating another allocation from the state.
“This stuff is expensive to do anymore,” Babcock said. “It all adds up. Any little bit that we can try to get we have to.”
Over the next five years, the millage will generate around $2.5 million. That would pay to improve 13 miles of road, but if leveraged with state and federal funds, it will improve 50 to 60 miles of roads.
“It’s a matter of money,” Babcock said. “That’s all it is.”
Ultimately, the millage is in the hands of voters to decide if they want continue spending money to upgrade the roads.
“When it comes to the millage, the people are going to vote how they feel about it,” Babcock said. “If it’s worth investing in, they’ll do it. It’s all up to them.”
 
Expand and renovate Devereaux Memorial Crawford County Library
 
A bond proposal targeted at enhancing services and access to the Devereaux Memorial Crawford County Library in Grayling will be decided by voters on the Tuesday,  Aug. 7, primary election ballot.
The proposal, if passed, would allow the county to issue bonds up to $3 million to make expansions and renovations to the library.
If approved, a property owner would pay 48 cents per each $1,000 in taxable value for 15 years.
The library was built in 2001. Leslie C. Devereaux donated $500,000 to the community in order to get the library built. She wanted to honor her grandfather, William Devereaux, and father, Richard Devereaux, who were avid readers, fly fishermen, and sportsmen who started coming to the Grayling area in the 1920s. 
In turn, local taxpayers approved a $1.5 million bond issue to cover the remaining cost for the building. The bonds for building the library have been paid off.
Devereaux has continued her philanthropy to support technology enhancements and maintenance of the building.
“Every year, she has granted us a significant amount of money for capital improvements,”  said Lynnette Corlew, the vice president for the Crawford County Library Systems Board of Trustees.
A needs assessment for the library was completed in 2013. The study determined there was not enough space for the programs the library offered, there were more people than what the library had space for, and there was a need for more space for library staff.
“Our current space is so much bigger than the one we had before that no one envisioned that we would fill it up, and we have,” Corlew said.
Corlew and Jodi Coors, a library trustee, headed up a visioning committing for the  needs of the library system. Input was solicited from staff, and patrons completed surveys.
In response, the bond proposal would add 42-foot addition on the east end of the library.
A large conference room with a kitchen would be located in the new space for teaching, programs, and demonstrations.
Friends of Crawford County Library would get space in the library to help support their fundraising efforts. Currently, books that they sell are located in a storage shed behind the library. Proceeds from the book sales fund library programs.
A teen area, where they could do their homework, use the computers, and play games, would be in the new space. The area would be near  the check out desk and director’s office.
“All that can happen right there, geared for that age group,” Corlew said.
The area where the drive up canopy now exists would be converted into an after-hours conference room. A number of community groups utilize the library’s conference room, and more are expected, if the new space is made available.
“That can be locked off from the library, and secured with a key pad,” Corlew said. “That means we don’t have to pay staff to be there, and these groups can be responsible for using this after-hours conference room.”
Space on the west end of the library would be renovated for library staff who handle every item that comes into the building. The staff also takes care of library finances and billing.
“We want to give them a decent work space, so they have room for what they need,” Corlew said. “Instead of everything sitting everywhere, they will have their own office space.”
The existing conference room will be converted into a classroom space where technology programs will be provided to patrons. The existing director’s office would be converted into a tutoring room for homeschooled and college students. 
“We will end with two tutor rooms, compared to  now, where we have nothing,” Corlew said.
The space where archives and genealogical records are stored would be expanded to allow people to study their family’s history and involvement in the community. Corlew said the library is currently having school yearbooks digitized. Over 150 years of the Crawford County Avalanche newspapers have been digitized.
“We are a great holder of history at the library,” Corlew said. 
Forty-two parking spaces will be located in the back of the library, where the Graying Cooperative Preschool was formerly located. Twenty to 30 parking spaces would be added where the library’s current memorial garden is located. The parking lots would be linked by a small roadway.
The memorial garden will be relocated to the back of the library. Memorial bricks in the garden will be mounted in a vertical structure to preserve their integrity.
“With the wear and tear of rain hitting them and people walking on them, this will preserve them better,” Corlew said.
Corlew recalled going to the library when Ella Funk established one that operated in her living room and dining room in her home for 22 years.
“That’s when I first went to a library as a child,” Corlew said.
The library then moved to the Grayling City Park, where the Grayling Nature Center in now located.
Library officials and community leaders hope the community will support the bond issues to provide for the needs of today and for the next 20 years.
“When I was child, a library was a place of knowledge where you could go get a book, borrow a record, or look up something in the encyclopedia,” Corlew said. “It has metamorphosed into  a community center. It isn’t just one thing any more. It is a multitude of things, and really for every age group, so we really want the community to invest into it.”
 
Renewal to fund Crawford County Veteran’s Service Office
 
Crawford County voters will go to the primary election polls on Tuesday, Aug. 7, to consider renewing a millage aimed at getting veterans the benefits that they have earned.
The 0.25 mill, which would be levied from 2019 to 2023, would be used for the funding, equipping, staffing, maintaining, and operating the Crawford County Veteran’s Service Office. 
Staff at the office, located at 501 Norway Street,  provide support and assistance services to all qualified veterans, their eligible spouses, and families.
The tax levy would raise $133,220 per year. If approved, a property owner would pay 25 cents per $1,000 in taxable value.
The millage not only funds the veterans affairs office and its operations, but also goes into a county trust fund to assist veterans.
The Michigan Veterans Trust Fund can be tapped to assist veterans who have wartime service.
The county’s veterans trust fund is more flexible, giving it the ability to assist veterans who served in the military during peacetime.
“They would have to fall under the county veteran’s trust fund or the soliders and sailors fund,” said John Steele, the veterans service officer for Crawford County.
The funds are used to help veterans who are in emergent need of assistance such as buying a new furnace, paying taxes, or those who are falling behind on mortgage or rent. 
The funds, which can be up to $2,000, are given through grants to help the veterans in need.
“They don’t have to pay those back at all, and they’re paid right to the vendor, whoever the money is owed to,” Steele said.
According to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs reports, there are 1,543 veterans living in Crawford County.
In the 2017 fiscal year, those veterans received $3.9 million in medical care provided by the Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outpatient Clinics or through local physicians.
An additional $6.2 million was paid to the veterans through  compensation and pensions.
“That’s cash that went into their bank accounts, that in turn came back into Crawford County’s community and got spent,” Steele said.
Finally, $224,000 came to support veterans with education and vocational rehabilitation employment.
That brings the total coming into the county at $10.3 million, which is equivalent to $6,700 per veteran, according to Department of Veterans Affairs reports.
Steele said the local millage leverages local funds to provide greater support for veterans.
“It’s not bad bang for your buck, $133,000 bringing back in $10.3 million – that’s not too bad,” he said.
About three veterans come into the office each day to learn about benefits and services.
“We average about one claim per day,” Steele said.
 

 

Crawford County Avalanche

Mailing Address
Box 490
Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
FAX: 989-348-6806
E-Mail: information@crawfordcountyavalanche.com

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