County may look into road commission

February 20, 2012
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Now that the state House has passed bills that fulfill one of the governor’s transportation initiatives to allow county commissions to eliminate their respective road commissions and take on those duties, Kent County is likely to look into the matter — but is just as unlikely to take such action.

County Commissioners Roger Morgan and Harold Voorhees recently told the Business Journal that they feel the county’s road commission does a good job.

“But we may want to look at a business plan or just take a look at it. I think people may hold us accountable to at least look at it: Are there advantages or disadvantages. I don’t know where that will go, though,” said Voorhees.

“I think they run a good organization and I appreciate their work. I think we should just be diligent to the principle of what everyone is talking about today — where can we do cooperation — so maybe we’ll have to take a look,” he added.

Morgan said he likes the way the county’s road commission is set up. The five-member citizen board is appointed by county commissioners; they’re chosen because they have an expertise in the area. No county official serves on that commission, which is a bit unusual because there are boards that have at least one commissioner or administrator on it. For instance, the airport board has three commissioners serving on it.

“I probably agree with Commissioner Voorhees that it’s a good thing to review it, but I’m not interested in a wholesale change,” said Morgan of the road commission.

Last October, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan was the only state with a road-commission system, and he felt that doing away with it would save money and create efficiencies. Snyder also said the state should have the ability to audit the new agencies that would replace the road commissions because it would result in greater taxpayer accountability. That could be the case for some of the 81 counties that have road commissions.

But it’s not likely to result in much of a cash savings for Kent. Road commissioners here receive a salary of $10,000 a year for their service and aren’t eligible for health and pension benefits from the county. So the $50,000 annual expenditure isn’t much of an issue here.

As for holding a board accountable, Morgan and Voorhees feel that is already being done.

“The big thing is the accountability of the road commission board, which oversees the operation. Its source of accountability is through this board, and so there are people who would say it’s this board’s responsibility to look at and see if things are good,” said Voorhees.

“There are some counties that absolutely have problems, but we don’t have that. We have a very good working relationship with our county road commission. But I just think the issue is out there, and we should be looking at the accountability factor and the transparency factor, which are big issues with me,” added Voorhees, who chairs the county’s Finance Committee.

The road commission oversees nearly 2,000 miles of road. It also maintains 1,139 lane miles of state roads and gets almost all of its funding every year from the state.

Dave Groenleer, former county commissioner and commission chairman Patrick Malone, Mark Rambo, William Stellin and new Grand Valley Metro Council Executive Director John Weiss make up the road commission.

“There are some road commissions that are out of control and, usually, that’s down in the southeastern side of the state,” said Morgan. “I think primarily those bills are focused on the east side of the state.”

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