Stories indexed with the term ‘road funding’

County Concerned by Rise in Juvenile Crime

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 9, 2014): An increase in violent crime committed by teens in Washtenaw County has spurred the need for additional funding from the county’s Child Care Fund. County commissioners have authorized using $642,707 from the Child Care Fund balance to pay for a range of services overseen by the county’s dept. of human services.

Wes Vivian, Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: former Congressman Wes Vivian talks with Washtenaw County board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) before the board’s July 9 meeting. Vivian is advocating for the board to put a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. (Photos by the writer.)

Linda Edwards-Brown, the county’s juvenile division administrator, told commissioners that there’s been an increase in young men “terrorizing” their communities. The sheriff’s office and court had started working together several months ago after they began observing an increase in gang-type activity, she said, including home invasions, firearm larceny, and assaulting police officers. They’d been hopeful that they could stem the tide of violence, she added, but it had escalated with a death in Ypsilanti earlier this summer.

So the sheriff’s office and court officials have reached consensus to remove some of these young men from the community and put them into residential facilities in other parts of the state, Edwards-Brown said. The juvenile division of the Washtenaw County trial court will place at least six youths in residential facilities this month, in addition to six youths who are currently in residential placements. According to a staff memo, residential placements are costly, with a typical length of stay at nine to twelve months.

At the July 9 meeting, commissioners and staff expressed the need to continue working on this issue as a community-wide effort.

In other action, commissioners were asked to pass a resolution making mid-year budget adjustments and allocating this year’s higher-than-expected property tax revenues, as well as putting the $3.9 million surplus from 2013 into unearmarked reserves.

The adjustments passed on a 6-2 vote, with Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Conan Smith (D-District 9) dissenting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) was absent. Dan Smith objected to spending more than was budgeted and making budget changes outside of the annual budget affirmation process, which takes place later this year. Conan Smith didn’t state his reason for voting against it on July 9, though in the past he has advocated for spending more of the surplus, rather than setting it aside in the fund balance.

Commissioners also authorized putting a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot to renew a 10-year, 0.2353-mill countywide parks and recreation operations tax. They held public hearings related to other millages that the county plans to levy later this year: (1) for support of indigent veterans and their families; and (2) to fund economic development and agricultural activities, under Act 88. The hearings drew one speaker – Thomas Partridge.

Related to the health department, the board created a new board of health to help oversee public health services in the county. A state official was on hand to talk about the accreditation process that the Washtenaw County public health department completed earlier this year.

Commissioners voted to accept the recommendations of a task force that’s been working on a funding strategy to help end homelessness, and to sunset that task force. The board also made appointments to a new committee that’s charged with exploring funding options for road repair.

Several issues were raised during public commentary. Former Congressman Wes Vivian urged the county board to place a proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot enabling Washtenaw County voters to ask the state to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. That U.S. Supreme Court ruling has resulted in corporations “sloshing big money into our elections at all levels,” Vivian said.

Also during the meeting, commissioners honored Arthur Williams, who is retiring as principal of Huron High School in Ann Arbor after 19 years in that job. The board also passed proclamations welcoming the United Association (UA) of plumbers and pipefitters and the Ironworkers International. Both unions hold training programs in Washtenaw County each summer.

At the beginning of the meeting, Rabhi asked for a moment of silence in memory of Rowan David LaBarre, the newborn son of commissioner Andy LaBarre and his wife Megan LaBarre. Rowan David had passed away earlier in the week. “We all pray and hold Rowan in the light of our prayers and thoughts,” Rabhi said. [Full Story]

County Board Appoints Road Funding Committee

Washtenaw County commissioners have approved appointments to a new committee that’s charged with exploring funding options for road repair. The appointments were made at the board’s July 9, 2014 meeting.

The board had created the road funding committee on June 4, 2014, after debating whether to levy a countywide road millage or put a millage proposal on the Nov. 4, 2014 ballot to fund road repair. The final vote to create the committee had been 6-1 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith (D-District 9). Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) were absent.

In arguing against levying a tax at that time, some commissioners cited the need to study funding options – including a possible Act 283 levy, … [Full Story]

Group to Study Countywide Road Funding

Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to create a new committee that will explore funding options for countywide road repair. The action took place at the board’s June 4, 2014 meeting on a 6-1 vote, over dissent from Conan Smith (D-District 9). Commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) and Dan Smith (R-District 2) were absent.

Commissioners had given initial approval to the idea at their May 21, 2014 meeting, after rejecting a proposal to levy a 0.4-mill countywide road tax in December. The tax would have been levied under Act 283 of 1909, which does not require voter approval.

In arguing against levying the tax at this time, some commissioners cited the need to study funding options – including a possible Act 283 levy … [Full Story]

Winter Damage Money OK’d by Ann Arbor Council

The Ann Arbor city council has approved an allocation to address the needs that resulted from the severe winter weather.

The resolution, approved by the council at its May 19, 2014 meeting, allocates money from the fund balance reserves from three sources: $1.7 million from the major street fund, $638,000 from the local street fund, and $666,000 from the water fund. Those amounts include $461,171 from the state of Michigan.

According to the staff memo accompanying the resolution, compared to last year there was a 36% increase in water main breaks and a 950% increase of broken water services. Compared to the previous two years winters, the 2013-14 winter had 272% more snow and a 450% increase in required plowing. That meant … [Full Story]

County Considers Road Funding Options

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (April 17, 2014): For more than two hours, county commissioners discussed the future of the road commission and appeared to reach consensus that no major structural changes will be made at this time.

Gene DeRossett, Manchester Township, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Several Washtenaw County road commission employees attended the county board’s April 17 working session, as did some township officials. In the foreground is Manchester Township supervisor Gene DeRossett. (Photos by the writer.)

More likely, though not yet determined, are efforts to find additional funding sources for road maintenance – including a possible countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot.

Keeping the road commission unchanged had been the recommendation of a board subcommittee that met for several months to discuss available options, including the possibility of dissolving the road commission and making it part of county operations, rather than operate as an independent entity. Most county commissioners oppose that approach. The board’s May 7 agenda includes a resolution accepting the subcommittee recommendations, which also rejects making the job of road commissioner an elected position. The three road commissioners are currently appointed by the county board.

State legislation enacted in 2012 allowed for: (1) a county board of commissioners to exercise the powers and duties of a road commission; and (2) the functions of a road commission to be transferred to the county board. A sunset clause means that the laws expire on Jan. 1, 2015. That deadline prompted the county board to examine these options.

The board’s May 7 agenda includes a letter to the state House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, urging passage of HB 5117 and 5118 – bills that would eliminate the current sunset clause and extend the options for changing the road commission functions.

Much of the focus of the April 17 working session was on funding options and long-term strategy for maintaining the county’s road network. Several township representatives who attended the session voiced support for special assessment districts, known as SADs, which are being used in Scio Township to pay for road maintenance.

But Conan Smith, an Ann Arbor Democrat who’s been vocal in urging the county board to take responsibility for the road commission, argued that SADs shouldn’t be a long-term approach. The road network is an asset to the entire county’s economy, he said, and the burden of maintaining it shouldn’t rest on the smaller communities.

Smith also noted that the economy is changing. Telecommuting, for example, might change the way people use the roads, he said. Later in the meeting, road commissioner Barb Fuller noted that other infrastructure needs are important to achieve the vision that Smith had described. “I would suggest that you folks look at making broadband ubiquitous across the county,” she said. For those commissioners who take access to broadband as a given, she said, “trust me – there are parts of the county where they can’t get a signal at all.”

Yousef Rabhi, another Ann Arbor commissioner, also spoke of the need for a broader vision. Roads should serve not just drivers, but also bicyclists and pedestrians. Potholes are a serious safety issue for cyclists, he noted. “We have to keep in mind that not every taxpayer drives a car.”

Regarding funding for roads, Rabhi wanted the discussion to be about the structure of a millage – not whether there should be a new road tax. “I think it’s pretty obvious that we need more money,” he said.

The May 7 agenda includes a discussion item on options for road funding. A draft resolution was circulated at the April 17 working session to put a countywide road millage on the Nov. 5, 2014 ballot. The draft resolution calls for a four-year, 0.5 mill tax – from 2014-2017 – that would raise $7.15 million in its first year. It would earmark 50% of the gross revenues to be used in the municipality in which the revenue was generated. Beyond that, 10% would be used for non-motorized transportation needs – like bike lanes and pedestrian paths – with the remainder to be allocated “based on use, need, and impact to the traveling public.”

Another possibility is for the county board to levy a millage under Act 283. The law allows the county board to levy a millage to cover those costs, without voter approval. A draft resolution that’s been circulated among commissioners calls for levying a 1 mill tax in December 2014, which would generate $14.34 million “to repair 2013–14 winter damage to the roads, streets and paths in Washtenaw County.”

On April 17, commissioners also discussed the possibility of expanding the road commission board from three to five members. That discussion will be continued at a May 8 working session agenda.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “No Major Change Likely for Road Commission” and “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.[Full Story]

No Major Change Likely for Road Commission

A subcommittee that’s been exploring possible organizational options for the Washtenaw County road commission is recommending that it remain an independent operation, and not be absorbed into the county government.

Pat Kelly, Alicia Ping, Doug Fuller, Washtenaw County road commission, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Dexter Township supervisor Pat Kelly, Washtenaw County commissioner Alicia Ping, and Doug Fuller, chair of the county road commission board. Ping chairs a subcommittee that’s looking at the future of the road commission. Kelly is a member of that subcommittee, which met on March 1, 2014 at the county administration building in downtown Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

The recommendation was made at a March 1 meeting, and will be forwarded to the county board of commissioners, an elected body that has authority to make changes in the road commission’s organizational structure.

The vote came over dissent from Conan Smith of Ann Arbor (D-District 9), who argued that consolidating the road commission into the county would allow for more flexibility and accountability in oversight. Currently, the road commission is overseen by a board with three members appointed by the county board of commissioners to six-year terms. Smith thought that asking voters to approve a countywide road millage – when the revenues aren’t allocated by an elected body – would be a tough sell. It would be especially tough to sell to voters in the city of Ann Arbor, who already pay a millage for street maintenance within the city.

But others on the subcommittee were in line with the strong support from township officials for keeping the road commission independent. Most township boards in the county have passed resolutions supporting the current structure, citing their strong relationships with the road commission staff and board.

The subcommittee also discussed the option of expanding the current three-member board to five members. Pat Kelly, Dexter Township’s supervisor, voiced concerns over possible Open Meetings Act violations: Two members constitute a quorum, so any conversation about road commission business must be held in public. “I think a three-member body in the age of the Open Meetings Act is just a dangerous thing,” Kelly said. “I just don’t think it can operate properly all the time.”

The three county commissioners who serve on the subcommittee – Conan Smith, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3) – all agreed that the question of expansion was primarily a political one, and should be taken up by the county board. Subcommittee members did not make a recommendation on this issue, but indicated that they’d be willing to discuss it further, if directed to do so by the county board.

Regarding the question of whether road commissioners should be elected positions, the subcommittee unanimously passed a resolution recommending not to pursue that option. The sense was that elections would be dominated by urban voters who are heavily Democratic, but who would be electing commissioners to oversee road projects in rural communities.

Also discussed on March 1 were possible funding options, focused primarily on (1) a countywide voter-approved millage, or (2) a levy by the county board under Act 283 of 1909, without voter approval. No recommendations were made on either of those options.

All subcommittee members agreed that action is needed to address the condition of roads, which Superior Township supervisor Ken Schwartz described as resulting from “inexcusable neglect from Lansing.” If the county board does intend to levy a millage for road projects, he urged them to act as soon as possible. Dan Smith noted that after the spring thaw, poor road conditions will be ”unlike we’ve ever experienced in our lifetime.”

Two of the three road commissioners – Doug Fuller and Barb Fuller, who are not related – attended the March 1 meeting but did not participate in the discussion. The third road commissioner – labor leader Fred Veigel, who was first appointed in 1990 – was in hospice and died the following day, on March 2.

For additional background on this process, see Chronicle coverage: “Group Explores Road Commission’s Future.[Full Story]

County Tells Governor: Help Fund Road Repair

At its Feb. 5, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed a resolution urging Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to allocate part of the state’s estimated $1 billion budget surplus to road repair.

The resolution’s one resolved clause states:
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, such funds from state surplus should be used in part for roadway maintenance using the fair formula allocation as prescribed by Public Act 51 of 1951 to ensure Washtenaw County benefits fairly from surplus use. [.pdf of resolution]
At the board’s Jan. 22, 2014 meeting, Alicia Ping (R-District 3) had indicated the likelihood of this resolution coming to the board. She reported that a subcommittee that’s exploring the future of the Washtenaw County road commission had met … [Full Story]

Group Explores Road Commission’s Future

At its second meeting since being formed in early October, a subcommittee that’s exploring the future of the Washtenaw County road commission met on Dec. 4 and discussed a variety of issues surrounding one central challenge: How to improve the condition of local roads.

John Stanowski, Conan Smith, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, York Township, Washtenaw County road commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

York Township supervisor John Stanowski, center, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith, who represents District 9 in Ann Arbor. They are members of a subcommittee appointed by the county board to explore the future of the road commission. (Photos by the writer.)

The subcommittee was created by the county board of commissioners, which has the authority to appoint the three road commissioners but does not oversee the road commission’s budget or allocation of funds. State legislation enacted last year opened the possibility of absorbing the road commission into county operations, which would give county commissioners direct control over funding and operations now administered by the road commission.

According to the County Road Association of Michigan, five of the state’s 83 counties have merged their road commissions into the county government. Of those, the closest parallel to Washtenaw County in size and demographics is Ingham County, home to Lansing and East Lansing – where Michigan State University is located.

At the Dec. 4 meeting, there appeared to be universal agreement that more road funding is needed, but no clear consensus about the best way to achieve that goal. Conan Smith, a county commissioner representing District 9 in Ann Arbor, noted that there are more options to explore than just leaving the road commission unchanged, or absorbing it as a county department. He said he could almost guarantee that it wouldn’t be the best option to have the county board become the road commission.

However, he argued that there are likely structural and procedural changes that can improve the coordination of countywide transportation planning and land use planning, and to ease the burden on rural townships for funding the maintenance of roads that are used by people throughout the county.

A variety of funding mechanisms were discussed on Dec. 4, including the possibility of the county board levying a countywide road millage under Act 283 of 1909 – which at this point seems unlikely – or putting a millage question on the ballot for voters to decide.

The Dec. 4 meeting drew more than two dozen observers, including two of the three current road commissioners, several township elected officials, and many road commission employees. The subcommittee plans to schedule another meeting for early January 2014, and is expected to complete its recommendations by the end of March.
[Full Story]

Olson: Road, Transit Legislation Introduced

An emailed press release from state representative Rick Olson’s office on the morning of Jan 26, 2012 announced that legislation to improve road infrastructure throughout the state, as well as enable the creation of a regional transit authority for southeast Michigan, would be introduced in the state house and senate later in the day. Olson represents District 55.

From the press release: “The bipartisan, bicameral package aims to improve and maintain roads across the state, implement numerous reforms to the Department of Transportation and establish a funding source to be used only to directly improve roads, bridges and key infrastructure. The legislation also would create a regional transit authority in Southeast Michigan.” For background see “AATA in Transition: Briefed on … [Full Story]