Road Commission opposed to bill that would allow county government to absorb it
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.