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Posted on Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:58 a.m.

Road Commission opposed to bill that would allow county government to absorb it

By Lisa Allmendinger

In what’s being billed as a cost-cutting measure by representatives in Lansing, there is legislation that’s been introduced, which would allow county board of commissioners to abolish road commissions and take over the duties as a department of county government.

“Legislation under discussion in Lansing would allow a county board of commissioners by resolution to abolish the road commission and transfer their duties to the county board of commissioners,” according to information from the County Road Association of Michigan (CRAM).

Thursday afternoon, the Washtenaw County Road Commissioners pushed back against the legislation, saying that a county takeover of the Road Commission wasn’t a good idea, wouldn’t save much money and in fact, it would wind up costing tax payers more money for road repairs.

The three appointed Washtenaw County Road Commissioners, Doug Fuller, Ken Schwartz and Fred Veigel are paid $10,500 each per year in salary, plus expenses such as mileage to association meetings, which amounts to a total of about $35,000 a year, said Chairman Fuller.

The move is seen as part of Gov. Rick Snyder's push for regional and consolidation efforts across the state, and Road Commission officials have said that he's made it clear that the state isn't going to raise the gas tax to fund roads and bridges.

Road Commissioner Fred Veigel said, “This is a do-nothing legislature for roads and bridges and now the state is pushing that county commissioners take over road commissions … the county would have to raise property taxes to maintain the county’s roads and bridges.”

Washtenaw County Commissioner Rob Turner, who is the board’s liaison to the Road Commission, also spoke out against the move.

Calling himself “a voice in the wilderness” he said he’s expressed his opposition to fellow commissioners about the county board absorbing the Road Commission.

Recently, representatives from road commissions from across the state traveled to Lansing asking for amendments to the legislation.

Here’s some history about road commissions across the state. Every county in Michigan has a county road agency, which was first enacted by Public Act 283 of 1909.

According to CRAM, three to five road commissioners may be elected or appointed to these commissions. Currently, Washtenaw County has three members who are appointed for staggered, six-year terms.

There are 83 county road agencies across the state, while in Macomb and Wayne counties, the road commission was merged with county general government. But in every other county in the state, the road commission is a separate unit of government.

Across the state, these road agencies are responsible for 75 percent or more than 90,000 miles of roads and 5,600 bridges, representing the fourth largest road network in the country, according to CRAM.

The Michigan Department of Transportation is responsible for 8 percent of Michigan’s total of 122,000 miles of roads.

The remaining 17 percent of the roads come under the jurisdiction of cities and villages like Ann Arbor or Dexter.

The Washtenaw Road Commission is responsible for about 1,650 miles of county roads, said Roy Townsend, county highway engineer.

For more information about the state’s roads, go here or check out the CRAM website. CRAM is recommending that “the county board conduct a review of road commission operations including an independent audit and ensure they understand liabilities and responsibilities involved in managing the county road network,” according to a news release.

Currently, there are substitute bills being offered that would allow counties to consider if making the road commission a department of the county government would be beneficial.

Lisa Allmendinger is a regional reporter for AnnArbor.com. She can be reached at lisaallmendinger@annarbor.com.

Comments

Fat Bill

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:53 a.m.

Having lived in the rural west for the first half of my life, I must say that the myriad divisions of local government one encounters as you move east of the Mississippi are a hoot. Outside of the cities, you get a new local government every 36 square miles in this state. In the days where you had to walk or ride to the seat of government, this may have made sense; today such divisions are silly and just one example of excessive layering. While we are at it, lets eliminate the Drain Commissioner as an elected office and make it part of the county public works department...

Buster W.

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

Government is mis-spelled in the heading. Spell check is great thing, when it's used.

a2huron

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

This change amounts to putting control back in the hands of taxpayers. All it does is eliminate duplicate admin costs that amount to hundreds of thousands every year. That money can go directly into the roads. Better snow plowing and more pot holes filled. No more ZERO ACCOUNTABILITY and passing blame! Road money is earmarked from fuel taxes, so county commission can't spend it on anything but roads. Not for other pet projects. No different than now, and road staff will generally stay the same. But this isn't a done deal. As this article hints the incumbent road commissioners will lobby the county board HARD to keep things status quo. Money will be donated. Pressure applied. Endorsements withheld or granted. All in a huge effort to keep things the way they have always inefficiently worked. Guaranteed to happen. Just follow the money trails to see which county board members are the weakest. If this law goes through, folks need to make sure their county board members are voting in the TAXPAYERS interests and NOT in the interests of the incumbent road commissioners intent on saving their annual stipends.

John Spelling

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 7:48 p.m.

Except for the unsupported claim by Commissioner Veigel that consolidation will require the county raise taxes, I see nothing in the article that would suggest abandoning the road commission isn't a good thing. Road Commissioners (and Rob Turner) - You claim abolishing the commission is not a good thing. Make your case.

justcurious

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

Mr. Veigel probably doesn't want to live up this piece of his power. <a href="http://www.annarbor.com/news/fred-veigel-continues-reign-as-longest-serving-central-labor-council-president/">http://www.annarbor.com/news/fred-veigel-continues-reign-as-longest-serving-central-labor-council-president/</a> .

foobar417

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 6:26 p.m.

I understand that if this this goes through, the commisioners on the Washtenaw County Road Commission would lose their positions. I also understand this might well lead over time to the elected representatives of the county to make decisions that were more in line with the voters, assuming the voters want a change in direction. That said, why would any other employee of the Road Commission necessarily have any change in job status? (This has been suggested by several commenters without any explanation as to their reasoning.) Is the assumption that the county commissioners would move the funds to something non-road-related? Is the assumption they would eliminate positions for some particular reason? My, perhaps naive, assumption is that this would leave the Road Commision organization largely intact, doing the job they do today. However, instead of answering to an appointed &quot;board of directors&quot; (the Road Commissioners), the employees would answer directly to an elected &quot;board of directors&quot; (the county commissioners) who would balance the county's investment in roads, for instance, against the county's investment in other things. This might in time change the nature of road projects selected to perform or the balance between road projects and other projects, but nothing dramatic or likely to immediately impact someone's job.

Brian Kuehn

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 8:23 p.m.

Well said.

Roadman

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:53 p.m.

The Washtenaw County Road Commission should be abolished. It has become a source of political plum seats that are given to insiders who are overpaid. Ken Schwartz, after losing his Board of Commisioners seat was chosen over morewell-qualified applicants. The merger of services is a great idea or taxpayers. Members of the Board of Commissioners should ask for input from Road Commission rank-and-file workers on this issue.

MgoBlueMomma

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:16 p.m.

It amazes me in how many people are so quick to bash the Road Commission. Think of how many people would once again that would lose thier jobs. And these are local jobs since everyone that works for the Road Commission has to live within a certain vacinity of the Road Commission yards they are working out of. Consolidating would do nothing but make all the issues everyone complains about worse. There would be far less locations and people to go around and if you haven't notices we have a very large county.

justcurious

Tue, Dec 13, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

I suppose you are assuming that their learned &quot;expertise&quot; would not allow them to transfer over to the new version of the &quot;road commission&quot;?

Ron Granger

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 3:35 p.m.

This is part of Snyder's push to privatize government services and outsource them to his business buddies. You think it's expensive now? Wait until it becomes a FOR-PROFIT operation.

justcurious

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:36 p.m.

Here is the bill - <a href="http://michiganvotes.org/Legislation.aspx?ID=141668" rel='nofollow'>http://michiganvotes.org/Legislation.aspx?ID=141668</a> Ingham County is moving ahead to abolish it's road commission. Ingham County - <a href="http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2011/11/county_another_step_closer_to.html" rel='nofollow'>http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2011/11/county_another_step_closer_to.html</a>

Silly Sally

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

One criticism of the Road Com is traffic lights. THey insist on placing all these new lights where they used to be only a stop sign with left turn red arrows. This is over kill. Not a blinking red, but one where a poor driver has to sit and wait, often with no traffic in sight. THey also do not have any of their lights flash late at night as the city of Ann Arbor does. If they were elected, they would be much more responsive. But they are not, so they are not.

towny

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:28 p.m.

Absolutely, consolidate and eliminate this over priced bunch of commissioners. What a huge waste of money. Maybe, something will actually get done it can't be any worse.

MgoBlueMomma

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:47 p.m.

I agree that the ACTUAL road commissioners probably are way over paid for what thye do. But when you are talking consolidate. There are alot more people that would be effected by this and they are not the overpaid ones. They are the local families working paycheck to paycheck too. So maybe think about that. Maybe eliminate cartain upper levels in the road commission. Or eliminate some of the office positions that they have that are SO not needeed. But don't punish the everyday hard workers.

Diane

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:54 p.m.

For sure it doesn't seem that the road com. knows what the heck they are doing. They should get some lessons from the NORTHERN road com. They DO KNOW how to take care of the roads, snow etc.

MgoBlueMomma

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 5:20 p.m.

The Northern Road Commssion seriously?????? They can take care of the roads there a bit better because there is far less traffic there and more workers. Here in Washtenaw County there is a TON of traffic and yet no one ever seems to slow down or watch out for the workers. So they have to slow down in order to accomodate the texters, the eaters and the people who are speeding because they are late and didn't pay attention to the weather ahead of time.

justcurious

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:43 p.m.

Maybe it's time for a change. What was established in 1913 may not work for today. I noticed that the administrative wages appear to have increased 5% between 2010 and 2011 accruing to the budget reports, while operations wages decreased. <a href="http://www.wcroads.org/aboutus/theboard/historical.htm" rel='nofollow'>http://www.wcroads.org/aboutus/theboard/historical.htm</a> .

justcurious

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:45 p.m.

sorry, I was typing &quot;according&quot; but the spell checker though I should say &quot;accruing&quot;.

gonefishing

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:40 p.m.

If you had a job, where there was zero accountability--wouldn't you complain if someone was going to take the gravy train away---come on Gov Snyder this is a prime example why you were elected--to weed out these folks , who has made a living on other people's money----I am reminded just last week, small snow storm, no big deal--those , I can't wait to get all the overtime I can steal ) employees--had those trucks out plowing, the pavement---there wasn't any snow left--but hey--there was another 6 hours of overtime to do----Gov Snyder --dispose of half the folks out there on Zeeb and all of the ones in eastern washtenaw yard---Michigan can't afford these leaches any longer

a2huron

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:28 p.m.

The road commission uniting to oppose a plan to save taxpayers money (by raising the usual dubious claim that it will actually cost more) is a hoot! Of course they want to protect their cushy nest and keep their own power base intact. The facts are pretty clear this is just another layer of government with little to no accountability. Make it another county department which will create better accountability onto elected county commissioners. That's what makes the most sense. Should've been done decades ago. When you peel back the road commission onion, you'll find all sorts of problems they don't want unmasked. Merge them into the county and make 'em accountable to open some sunshine on that whole mess. Ask a county comm'r about a road problem and what do they say? &quot;It is the road commission's fault and we have no control over them.&quot; Ask a road commissioner about a problem and they say &quot;We are unelected and need to do things a certain way and if you don't like it, ask your county commish to give us more money&quot; Nice . Make the change now!

Lifelong A2

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 1:11 p.m.

Abolishing the Road Commission is a good idea, which is why the legislation in Lansing won bi-partisan support. Washtenaw County would save more than just $35,000/year. Other administrative services performed independently by the Road Commission could be performed by the County. That's why other townships and cities -- including Ann Arbor -- have been merging services with the County, such as community development and police dispatch. I hope the County Commission takes the right step and abolishes the Commission.

SonnyDog09

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:53 p.m.

Where is the savings? Two words: Consolidated Administration. Both organizations have their own HR, purchasing, etc. departments.

Silly Sally

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 2:24 p.m.

Exactly how would it save money? It would not merge with the CIty of Ann Arbor Roads... Where is the savings?

Jim Osborn

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 12:23 p.m.

I concur with &quot;McGiver&quot;. While I wish that the Washtenaw County Road Com. were elected rather than appointed, I fail to see how this would save very much beyond $35 thousand. Instead, it might cost many times more as major projects' only oversight would now be carried out by another county board that has other duties, and much to learn about roads. I support alloying each county to make its own choice, via a vote of the people, not of the county commissioners themselves. (We don't need a power grab). It should be allowed, even though I feel that this is a poor idea.

McGiver

Mon, Dec 12, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

While I am no fan of the county road commission finding them largely incompetent and unresponsive, I am likewise not in favor of consolidation. I am always skeptical of making any unit of government larger. Does anyone seriously think that county employees are going to take on extra work and responsibility for free?