Bills would allow county to absorb road commission

November 20, 2011
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State lawmakers have started working on one portion of Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal for the future of transportation and infrastructure in the state. But at least one key provision of his plan hasn’t received a warm reception.

Two bills have been introduced in the state House that would allow a county commission to take over the powers, duties and functions that currently belong to a county road commission board.

House Bill 5125 would give a county commission the power to receive and spend Michigan Transportation Act funds. State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, sponsored the bill.

HB 5126 would allow a county commission to pass a resolution that would assume a road commission’s powers, duties and functions and dissolve a county road commission. State Rep. Dale Zorn, R-Ida, sponsored the bill.

“Since county commissions already have in place human resources, administrative, planning and other support departments, there would be potential for savings that could go to road improvement and maintenance,” said Zorn.

“County governments manage a wide range of services for the residents they represent,” he said. “Adding road services to that list will give taxpayers more value for their money. The bill is permissive, not a mandate, that will give county government more options when considering road improvements.”

The bills are tied to each other, meaning both have to pass to become law.

Becky Bechler, of Public Affairs Associates, told members of the county’s Legislative Committee recently that the bills would soon emerge from committee, and she expects the House will approve both. But Bechler, who represents the county in Lansing, said she wasn’t sure whether the Senate would ratify the measures.

The county’s road commission manages nearly 2,000 miles of road and maintains 1,139 lane miles of state roads.

County Administrator and Controller Daryl Delabbio said his office would perform due diligence on absorbing the road commission. But a few county commissioners told the Business Journal they weren’t enthusiastic about taking over those duties.

A tougher legislative sell, though, will likely be the governor’s funding scheme to raise $1.4 billion for transportation. Snyder wants to replace the pay-at-the-pump gas tax with a tax at the wholesale level that distributers would pay and likely pass on to retailers, who would probably pass the charge on to consumers.

“That is still a work in progress,” said Bechler. “It will be very difficult to pass a tax increase in the House during an election year.”

The governor’s other funding proposal is to raise the annual vehicle registration fee by $10, which Snyder said would collect $1 billion of the $1.4 billion he wants. Bechler, though, said there isn’t much support in either chamber for doing that.

Another element of the governor’s transportation proposal is to eliminate funding for cities and villages that receive less than $50,000 in road money annually and to allocate those dollars to the largest road agencies nearest those small municipalities.

If the legislature grants the governor’s wish, 110 cities and villages statewide that receive allocations from the Michigan Transportation Fund would lose that revenue source. Two of those — Casnovia and Sand Lake — are in Kent County.

According to the Michigan Department of Transportation, the village of Casnovia, which is situated near the Kent-Muskegon county line, received $32,180 in MTF revenue during the last fiscal year. The village of Sand Lake, along the county’s northeastern border with Montcalm County, received $44,265 last year from the MTF. Both would lose those dollars if lawmakers approve the governor’s request.

The countywide MTF total was nearly $50.2 million last year. Kent County received the largest share at $27.1 million, while the city of Grand Rapids received about $12.3 million.

The other cities that received MTF money were Cedar Springs ($175,200), East Grand Rapids ($598,202), Grandville ($899,662), Kentwood ($2.57 million), Lowell ($231,293), Rockford ($248,174), Walker ($1.38 million) and Wyoming ($4.23 million.)

The villages of Caledonia ($69,657), Kent City ($68,719) and Sparta ($217,310) also received MTF allocations in the last fiscal year.

On another legislative matter important to the county, Bechler said what lawmakers will do with the personal property tax is still a work in progress. She said some are considering phasing out the tax and looking into some type of replacement tax, but not a full replacement. She added the Senate doesn’t support fully replacing the revenue source, while the governor does.

“It will probably be a February issue,” said Bechler. “I don’t think they can pass it with just a few weeks left in the year.” The county receives $9.9 million in revenue from the PPT each year.

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