Democrats: Use idle county funds to end decade of road neglect

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Livingston County is sitting on millions of dollars that could be put to work fixing the county’s deteriorating roads without raising taxes, Democratic candidates for county commission said in a news release on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

The six Democratic candidates are calling for the county to use at least $10 million from the huge surplus sitting idle in its delinquent tax revolving fund to pay for road improvements throughout the county to begin fixing roads right now.

“Enough is enough,” said Democratic candidate Kasey Helton of Marion Township. “Our roads have been left to crumble while the county has just been sitting on money that could be used to fix them, make us safer on the road, and give people jobs. We have the money, but our county commission lacks the vision and the will to make road funding a priority. When elected in November, we will see to it that this money is put to work for our community.”

The County’s delinquent tax revolving fund had $42.7 million in unrestricted funds as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to the latest financial report delivered to the county board. Investing $10 million would still leave a large amount of available cash to make pension contributions and for emergencies without jeopardizing the county’s financial position.

Michigan law gives responsibility for maintaining local roads to county government, but for too long the County Commission has kicked the can down to the townships. Many townships, including Hamburg, Green Oak, Hartland, and Howell, have had to ask their voters to approve millages to pay for road improvements. In other cases, property owners have had to form special assessment districts to tax themselves to fix the roads.

It’s not just the County Commissioners that refuse to act. Republicans in Lansing have offered only Band-aid solutions for the multi-billion-dollar problem of fixing Michigan’s infrastructure.

“We have had years of failed Republican leadership on roads here in Livingston County. We can do better for our community, and we will,” Helton said while announcing the plan on behalf of the Democratic candidates at an event Tuesday night in Howell.

While the commissioners have been bragging about having the state’s lowest tax rate, they have overlooked the obvious solution of using idle county funds. Their lack of vision has left Livingston County with the worst roads in the seven-county region of southeast Michigan, according to the latest figures from the Transportation Asset Management Council data on the state website, Michgan.gov.

With 50.5 percent of county roads rated as being in “poor’ condition, Livingston County is worse than Wayne (35.1 percent); Oakland (48.2 percent), Macomb (42.6 percent), Washtenaw (37.5 percent), Monroe (32.9 percent), and St. Clair (48 percent).

The County’s percentage of “poor” roads is nearly 10 points higher than the 42.3 percent for the region as a whole. And it’s actually getting worse and worse. In 2008-09, the data showed 35.44 percent of Livingston County lane-miles as being in poor condition. In 2012-13, the percent poor had dropped slightly to 33.05. But in the last five years, it has shot up by more than 18 points to more than half (50.45 percent).

The County Commission’s decade of neglect means that County residents have been driving on dangerous roads, dodging potholes, and paying for front-end alignments, wheel hubs, and tie rod ends when, all along, there was money available to start addressing the problem. Furthermore, letting road repairs go means it costs more to fix roads in the long run. According to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, once a road is rated in poor condition it must be completely replaced rather than repaired.

“That amounts to neglect of duty,” Helton said. “It’s time to end the decade of neglect.”

The candidates said they would work with the Livingston County Road Commission to devise a program of spending the money, with a portion reserved for the Road Commission’s priorities and a portion used for a matching program with local governments, both townships and cities. The Road Commission’s budget for this year is $36.8 million.

Money in the delinquent tax revolving fund comes from interest and penalties for late property taxes. Other counties, such as Wayne, have used these funds to supplement their general fund. Recently, Macomb County officials proposed using its delinquent tax revolving fund for roads as well.

The Democratic candidates for County Commission are: Jennifer Garcia of Hartland Township, District 2; Steve Savela of Tyrone Township, District 3; Maureen Martin of Unadilla Township, District 4; Alex Hansen of Howell Township, District 5; Kasey Helton of Marion Township, District 6; and Kristina Drake of Hamburg Township, District 8.

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