A tale of two cities: If only Howell voters approved the street millage like Brighton voters did

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Had Howell voters approved the 1-mill street millage put before them in the mid-1990s, all the streets in the city would be re-engineered and reconstructed today.

Instead voters — led down the wrong path by wrong-headed yet energetic anti-street campaign — defeated Howell’s millage. The city instead adopted a pay-as-you-go plan to reconstruct streets as money became available.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20, and here Howell is, nearly two decades later, still struggling to keep up with its streets, and the council is haggling over whether to finish what it started.

Things could have turned out so differently.

On the other side of the county, at about the same time the street millage went down in Howell, Brighton voters approved a plan so similar, the two issues might have been separated at birth.

One city voted to invest mightly in itself and its infrastructure; the other chose to fix its streets one brick at a time.

Folks can and do find good and bad things about both approaches, but to me, the proof is definitely in the pudding.

Today, Brighton’s streets look great. The city looks great. Though its downtown lacks the architectural bonanza of Howell’s historic buildings, it looks great, too, and the area is booming.

Brighton is lucky to be in a position to leverage state grants encouraging local investment. New buildings are rising on empty and cleared downtown lots, restaurants are serving hungry diners and businesses are moving in.

This begs the question — in an odd, chicken-and-egg, dressing-for-success kind of thing — of whether the confidence illustrated by a city investing in itself draws businesses and residents.

In Howell, there’s new hullabaloo over Monday’s split decision to finish up the last part of the city’s three-phase, $21 street program by borrowing $2.5 million from the state’s Drinking Water Revolving Fund.

Watch for this decision and the street program to emerge as “the issue” in the upcoming city council election, as candidates who believe in government investment are challenged by those who think government should operate like a business.

Howell residents should definitely listen to the debate and weigh the rhetoric. Then, they should look east to Brighton, where voters voted to fund investment on the part of their local government by approving a dedicated street reconstruction millage.

The Howell City Council did the right thing by voting to invest in itself, to finish up its street plan.

About Maria Stuart 211 Articles

Journalist Maria Stuart lives in Howell. She worked at The Livingston County Press/Livingston County Daily Press & Argus as a reporter, editor and managing editor from 1990-2009. She is often spotted holding court at Uptown Coffeehouse. You can check out her website by clicking here.