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Posted on Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Commissioners may consider road tax for Washtenaw County

By Amy Biolchini

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. with additional information about possible consolidation.


Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners (L-R) Dan Smith, Alicia Ping, Ronnie Peterson, Felicia Brabec, Yousef Rabhi and Conan Smith debate budget priorities Thursday night during the body's first budget retreat.

Andrew Kuhn | For

A countywide tax to fund road improvements and the consolidation of the Washtenaw County Road Commission -- among other big ideas -- will likely be debated this spring as the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners begins its budget planning process.

The commissioners met in a three-hour-long public budget retreat Thursday night to establish action priorities to direct the budget process this year before a crowd of county staff and elected officials.

It’s the first step to drafting a two-year budget for 2014 and 2015. For 2014, $3.9 million in structural cuts are needed. By 2015, that figure would compound to about $4.9 million.

Commissioners could choose to implement a four-year budget with $6.88 million in cuts to avoid a looming $9.3 million structural deficit in 2017.

“We owe it to our workforce and we owe it to the public that this ship is well to sail for years to come,” said Commissioner Ronnie Peterson, D-Ypsilanti.

Better roads quickly emerged as a priority among commissioners Thursday night. Proposals being floated in the state legislature to increase funding for local road projects have yet to hit solid ground.

There is no millage in Washtenaw County to support the work of the Washtenaw County Road Commission, which operates on a mix of federal and state funds.

Creating a new tax to fund local road improvements would have to be deliberated this spring if it were to be passed this year, said Commissioner Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor.

“If we’re going to have that conversation, we need to do that now,” Smith said.

Several commissioners expressed interest in evaluating the cost-savings of eliminating the road commission board and bringing the governance of the road commission directly under the Board of Commissioners during the budget planning process.

“I’m certainly not interested in fixing something that’s not broken,” said Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township. “But we need to come to that decision one way or the other.”

The road commission is independent from the Board of Commissioners and has a board of three members — Chairman Doug Fuller, Fred Veigel and Ken Schwartz — who are appointed by the county.

The road commission’s board approves its own budget, union contracts, hiring and purchase agreements. The commission is responsible for the plowing, safety, care and maintenance of 1,649 miles of roads in the county, as well as 580 miles of state highways including Interstate 94, U.S. 23 and M-14.

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners voted in January to dissolve its road commission after an ad hoc review committee found cost savings in the measure, as well as low morale in the road commission.

Other priorities established during the budget retreat Thursday night include an emphasis on addressing workforce training and access issues, continuing mass transit conversations, increasing access to mental health and public health services, as well as investing in the east side of the county to stimulate the economy.

Conan Smith said the Ypsilanti-Willow Run school district merger that created Ypsilanti Community Schools is a big issue for the future of the east side.

The systemic unemployment and poverty issues in Ypsilanti can't be solved unless the city has enough revenue from property taxes to provide basic human services, Conan Smith said.

To improve the quality of the Ypsilanti housing market, investment needs to first be made in the Ypsilanti Community Schools to make the are more attractive for growth, Conan Smith said.

"We need to present a compelling reason for someone to compete for housing in that area," he said.

That could be accomplished by expanding the Perry Nursery School for at-risk children in Ypsilanti, as well as offering universal college education for students in the district, Conan Smith said.

Though the ideas floated during the budget retreat directly related to improving the quality of life for county residents, direct implications on county departments and their budgets remain to be seen.

The commissioners were clear that the heavy staff cuts that were a part of the previous budget process would not happen again this year. Workforce capacity should remain at its current levels, Conan Smith said.

“You have asked the people to sacrifice — that day is over,” Commissioner Peterson said.

The county's 2013 Equalization report will be issued in April. The County Administrator will present a recommended draft of the budget to the board in September.

Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Mon, Mar 11, 2013 : 11:33 a.m.

Clarification: Perry Nursery School (the non-profit preschool for at-risk children) is not a part of the Ypsilanti schools (the public school preschool is Perry CDC). Perry Nursery School, established in 1934, is located on Packard near Carpenter and serves families from all of Washtenaw County.

It's hard to hide from facts

Sat, Mar 9, 2013 : 2:50 a.m.

"I'm certainly not interested in fixing something that's not broken," said Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township. "But we need to come to that decision one way or the other." Sorry to be the one to break the news Mr. Smith from Northfield, but the system is broken, just like our roads are and NO don't dare ask another dime from me to fix them. We gave you the money to work on the roads and if you spent it on something else, too bad. Cut some of the wasteful programs. And that argument that the gas tax hasn't been increased in years? So. Who says it has to keep going up? Where will it end with you people? When is enough, enough? How high must the tax go before you politicians think we are taxed enough?

G. Orwell

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

Go after the bankers. They have all our money they stole via our politicians in DC.

Roger Kuhlman

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 9:33 p.m.

Haven't we had enough tax increases in Ann Arbor recently? We do not need the Washtenaw Road Commission raising our tax bills even higher! Before you know it AAPS and AADL will be coming back at us for more money. You know that is true.

music to my ear

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 7:29 p.m.

we are taxed too death enough already, I will just drive slower.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

The annual budget of the Washtenaw County Road Commission for each year, going back to 2006, can be viewed here:


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 6:14 p.m.

Fix the roads and do it without raising taxes. Considering the roads seem like nothing has been done to them in years I can't imagine how they don't have the money to fix them.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

Absolutely not. I pay more taxes in Washtenaw than I have ever paid anywhere else and the services are sub-par to nonexistent. Cut the fluff, curtail the needless and costly studies, and end the hand-outs. Stop abusing your tax-payers and give us the basic services we deserve!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

Universal college education? NO. I'll be paying on my student loans for another 8 years, after paying on them for 10 alread. My husband and I already pay thousands of dollars for public schools and WCC (WCC is well-spent, the other's could be better-managed). NO.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:09 p.m.

Grrrrrrrrr. Frustrated by all of it.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

The County Commissioners do not understand what their job is! I sure do not want them making more decisions!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 5:07 p.m.

Sometimes I have to laugh, if you go back and look at the reasons that the various millages were past in the county over time and where the money goes now - there is very little correlation. One of the big reasons to pass the country wide millage back in the 1980s was to fund the sheriff's department and enhanced response times, then along came the jail and the sheriff's patrols got shutdown, unless townships paid for it. Then there was money in the millage for roads - now that goes to pay other county services. What the county commissioners do - is to find the things that will get them more money and defund them - then tell the community there is no money to pay for that service - while they use the money for other purposes. Then after things get bad enough they put a millage on the ballot and ask for money for what they defunded - in this case roads and get more money from the voters. After a few years they do it all over again. We already voted on millages for the county with the UNDERSTANDING of where that money was going, that money no longer goes where we as voters were promised it would be used. Now they want to reach into our pockets and grab more money? Then slush it into the general fund and... As the old saying goes....Fool me once....

Go Blue

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:39 p.m.

Why tax when a duplication situation exists? Cut the board first, save those funds, then re-address if a tax is still necessary. This county is taxed to death. Seems more internal cleanup, reorganization and slashing should be done first before going to the taxpayers yet again.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:38 p.m.

Just remember this is the same group who voted to open union contract early to stop the state right-to-work law from going in place!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:41 p.m.

Sorry I am wrong


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:33 p.m.

It would seem to me that the Road Commission should report to the County Commissioners. I do not understand the logic of having a separate "triumvirate" to oversee this, without further oversight by the commissioners. That should be done far before any tax is suggested. There are too many times when it seems there are too many people assigned to different tasks, and then there may be a supervisor sitting in a pick up truck.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:08 p.m.

Instead of a road tax, Conan Smith should pay back the money he owes the county.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:03 p.m.

Anything that Conan Smith wants, I don't. He is so out of touch with the people of this county. When was the last time he actually talked to some people?


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

"The systemic unemployment and poverty issues in Ypsilanti can't be solved unless the city has enough revenue from property taxes to provide basic human services, Conan Smith said." No, the systemic unemployment and poverty issues can be solved with MORE JOBS, more businesses moving into the area, fixing the schools, and real training programs for the unemployed residents of Ypsi. As far as services, safety is first. Hire more police. You can't keep taxing property owners. Property tax rates are higher in Ypsi than AA, which is unbelievable, given how high the tax rates are in AA. EMU should be contributing to the city services (police, fire).


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3 p.m.

Act as a negotiator for county employees then ask for money to pay for what you give away! Typical brilliant accounting by the Democrats.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

Commissioners consider a road tax for Washtenaw county? This is a joke, right? Is more money going to get the "road commission" out of bed to start plowing and salting earlier in the winter? I doubt it. Given the absolutely abysmal snow removal of county roads in the winter for years and years, my recommendation is to turn over the entire snow plowing and salting to private businesses who know how to get the job done, even if it means getting to work PRIOR to rush hour when there is a snow storm. NO NEW TAXES for the worst road commission performance in the state.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:50 p.m.

I don't understand your approach. I agree that snow removal here is terrible. As are potholes, general road condition, and planning. However, new equipment, good management, motivated workers -- all those things cost money. You can't expect to starve the organization and then expect better performance. Since privatization generally ends up costing more, why not just give the organization we have the wherewithal to get the job done?


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

You have lots of experience with other road commissions in the state? Narrow minded view of the problem to say the least!

Tex Treeder

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:56 p.m.

More proof that Conan Smith is out of touch with the electorate. He probably yearns to upgrade his position to one like Wayne County has. No, Mr. Smith, we are not interested in having another layer of government that we just don't need.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Tax the users, not just the locals!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 8:58 p.m.

It's all the same, you pay for it in higher costs of goods and services. I'd rather have them just raise all of our tax rates to what they need them to be so we knew exactly what we are paying instead of hiding it in my phone bill and cable TV bill for example..................That will never happen because they don't really want you to know how much you are paying.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:09 p.m.

For years the county road commission has wasted our money! I don't need more taxation! Get rid of them now.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

TOTALLY agree. Terrible terrible road maintenance and snow removal for years.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

No more taxes and no more money wasted because of a Road Commission that is not elected by the people and just gets appointed year after year. The Unions need to stop demanding more money from us.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

I want better roads, and I'll suffer a modest increase in my taxes to get them. It's worth it. At least with a county-wide road tax, our tax dollars will go to something that we all benefit from.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 8:55 p.m.

We're suffering "modest" increases in all of our taxes and expenses. When does it end? Gas has doubled in the last four years, food prices are soaring, Obamacare is loded with tax increases, Snyder is prposing a .19 per gallon tax increase, plus doubling license fees, plus a service tax, plus a higher sales tax. The Kool-aid guy next to your screen name makes sense to me now...................


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2 p.m.

While the roads in Washtenaw County offer ample room for improvement, there are some real questions about how to fund their improvement. Property taxes don't reflect road use, and don't impact people who commute to Ann Arbor from Brighton, etc., and who most impact the roads that the Commission would repair. I don't have the answer, but the questions require some more consideration.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Clarification: Are Conan Smith's comments directed at the idea of the County somehow taking over or contributing to the new Ypsilanti Community Schools district, or were they musings about the area in general? Another point of clarification: is the "new tax" contemplated a property tax millage? The word "millage" is mentioned at one point, but not as part of the proposal. As the story indicates, transportation tax proposals in the State Legislature are somewhat up in the air. Governor Snyder has proposed a mix of new taxes, some which would be available for counties to use, but it is very much a work in progress. As part of that package, the Governor would change state road support from a general grant to money directed at "commercial corridors". This would have the opposite effect from the outcome that many critics of our current Road Commission wish, i.e. it would defund small rural roads in order to improve larger commercially important roadways. Here is a summary. I wonder whether the BOC is on top of these developments? It would seem premature to make sweeping changes and/or tax changes in the way our county addresses roads without considering how some of the many changes proposed at the state level might affect us.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:47 p.m.

Commissioner Ronnie Peterson was the one that brought up the issue of mass transit in the county as a priority last night, not Conan Smith.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4 p.m.

My bad meant to say Conan got his plug in for his public transit project


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:55 p.m.

Good points I had the same question of why the commision would be involved with a community school district but given it's coming from Conan.... he got a plug in for his public transit prpjectto no mention of the county rushing to rework the county employees contracts and that impact is disappointing it will be long term deal that county residents have no say in

Sam S Smith

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:46 p.m.

I'm so sorry you lost the city council seat! Will you please run for it again or better yet for mayor?

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:39 p.m.

The idea of the county taking over the Ypsilanti Community Schools district was never discussed last night. Conan Smith's comments were regarding making Ypsilanti a more desirable area for people to live by first making the school system a stronger asset that would draw both new families in to live in the district, as well as to bring students who live in the district but travel to charter schools back. The nature of the new tax has not been fleshed out at this point. The Commissioners introduced the issue informally to see how much support there would be for that kind of discussion. The commissioners have been watching what is going on in Lansing, but there's a consensus that discussions may be needed now instead of waiting on Lansing to come to an agreement. If a millage were to be passed this year locally, the BOC would need to start that process now.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:55 p.m.

They just purchased almost $900,000 worth of plow trucks.............I'm sure they are in need of more cash. Do what I did; re-furbish what you have and save about 80% of that money. The rest of us have figured out how to do it. We can't go to our neighbors and ask them for part of their paycheck when we're a little strapped for cash...............

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

The purchase of four new plow trucks was just approved about two weeks ago. They cost about $221,319 each and will be used to replace the four plow trucks on the state trunkline crew. MDOT will pay the road commission for the purchase of the trucks over the next five years. The new plow trucks won't be in use until this winter.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3 p.m.

New trucks? Did they ever take them out of the garage this year??? I doubt it based on the poor performance during the winter.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

First tell us what you have done with what should be significant savings of revenue from the minimal snows we have had the past two years, combined with the definite slowing of snow removal services when there was snow to remove. The last two years, the crews couldn't have been paid much overtime comparatively - at least not for snow removal. So us where that savings went, let us know the money isn't being flushed back into the general fund. So us you were good stewards of what has already been given, because the public has to see it, feel it, know it before we give you more money to handle.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:48 p.m.

Too early in the morning - all those "SO"'s should be SHOW us the MONEY! LOL!~

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:21 p.m.

They have new roads in tune of BILLIONS of dollars. Why not here?


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

The raod commission should contact the federal government and ask for some of thee money they borrow and then send to Iraq. Maybe they'll listen to them; they certainly don't listen to we the people...............


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:10 p.m.

Gee more of our $$$ for another bunch of bureaucrats to urinate away....wake up sheeple

Jim Osborn

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1 p.m.

The gas tax should be raised to pay for better roads, not property taxes. Electric cars can have a special fee instead of a gas tax. And it is about time to raise truck diesel taxes. While we are at it, why should Michigan have double the weight limit of any other state on heavy trucks, which tear up the roads? Ohio does not and you can FEEL the difference.

An Arborigine

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:11 p.m.

Your Governor is way ahead of you, increasing gas tax to pay for roads. The GOP version of tax and spend


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

Jim, as I've said many times before, your statement is not true. Research trucks in Michigan. "While we are at it, why should Michigan have double the weight limit of any other state on heavy trucks, which tear up the roads? Ohio does not and you can FEEL the difference."


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:59 p.m.

Great idea Jim. Why don't you lead the charge with YOUR checkbook and make that happen................


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Every answer is more taxes for homeowners - I bet most fo the commission doesnt even live in Washtenaw county. This is completely unfair - if you want road money - tax everyone including the commuters that come here daily - maybe a toll station on 94 and 23 coming into the county - especially teh double semi's that destroy the roads

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

Vivienne is correct. As a condition of election, commissioners on the county board must live in the county -- and they do. The road commission board also lives in the county -- one of the members is a former BOC commissioner. Current funding for road repairs in Michigan comes from the gas tax.

Vivienne Armentrout

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

All the county commissioners and the road commissioners do live in the county.

Jim Osborn

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:01 p.m.

gas taxes need to be increased.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

psh. Where we're going, we don't need roads.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 6:48 p.m.

1.21 Gigawatts!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:23 p.m.

ok, doc brown!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:13 p.m.

Yes! Just like our leading group in DC - tax and spend! When will it ever end and be replaced by a process that has some sanity? Reasonable taxes; reasonable expenditures; no more gold plated benefit packages; etc., etc., etc. Go figure!


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 12:09 p.m.

I'm not interested in higher taxes. Period. End of discussion.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11:52 a.m.

When I complained the condition of Carpenter Rd. between Packard and Washtenaw back in 2007 (well, it won't be fixed until 2014 earliest). WRC answered "our fund is from federal and state, there is no tax on county residents; i.e. no tax from your tax bill". Sounds familiar? Here is the problem, last time I checked my pay check, there was one line for federal tax and another for state tax. No wonder the budget is all screwed up, because they never think for one second they elected (by county board) public servants.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:59 p.m.

State Road funding comes from PART of the gas (fuel) taxes. There are 2 in Michigan - which is different from most of the states that surround us. One is the 6 percent sales tax that goes to the sales tax revenue and is NOT used for roads, the other is the tax per gallon on fuel that does (mostly) go for roads. Some of the fuel tax money goes for bicycle trails and subsidies for passenger rail and .... The use of the taxes you pay on fuel for your vehicle are many. It used to be that they only were used for roads, and then over time, there was more fuel tax money than needed, so they put another hole in the bucket. Now the bucket is empty.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:17 p.m.

Oops! Fat fingers! I really need to check the grammars before I post my comments.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:12 p.m.

Amy, thanks for pointing out that state funding is from gas tax not from pay-roll. My main point is that they don't answer to anyone is still valid.

Amy Biolchini

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 2:45 p.m.

State funding for road work in Michigan comes from the gas tax.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

999th paper cut.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

Why is the Road Commission independent from the county Board of Commissioners? It seems like that's just asking for waste and inefficiency. My wife works in Wayne County, and she tells me that after a snow storm, it's obvious where Washtenaw County ends and where Wayne County starts. If even Wayne County can do a better job with their roads, what should that tell us about the Washtenaw County Road Commission?


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 4:56 p.m.

It was a requirement of the state law to do this previously. Only in the last year has the law changed and the county commission can take on the responsibilities of the road commission directly.


Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 3:44 p.m.

Michigan, I believe, is the only state in the union that still has County Road Commissions. However, certain counties around the state have begun to dissolve them or integrate them into another form of government. I'm new to the area - grad student at EMU - and it was my impression that Washtenaw County would have good roads, simply by the good economic conditions and amount of traffic and students in the area. However, I noticed after a couple winter storms this winter that the county sucks at taking care of them even compared to counties up north, which get even more snow than down here.

Bob W

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 1:45 p.m.

Your wife's observation is right on. I commuted by car between A2 and Detroit for more than twenty years. You ALWAYS knew when you crossed into or from Wayne County.

dading dont delete me bro

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11:26 a.m.


Basic Bob

Fri, Mar 8, 2013 : 11:17 a.m.

Trying to attract more families (?) with at-risk children seems like the wrong approach if you are trying to improve property values and community safety.