By: Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
Several Charlevoix County officials met Friday March 9, to discuss the future of road infrastructure funding.
The informal session included Charlevoix County Commissioners Richard Gillespie and Chris Christensen, Charlevoix County Road Commission Manager Pat Harmon and Charlevoix County Treasurer Marilyn Cousineau.
“We need to define everything that’s not already covered by something else,” said Christensen, who gave the example of a local township road which needs major improvements but is technically a local roadwhich is the responsibility of the township.
Officials discussed the potential pros and cons of developing a fund which could be used to help pay for local road projects. Officials stressed that this was merely a conversation to consider the idea fostered by Gillespie at an earlier Charlevoix County Board of Commissioners meeting – no decisions were made.
“Let’s say that road was in deplorable shape and they voted in a mil … for improvements, they could come and ask to use this fund so they could get this project done,” Gillespie said.
Christensen said this type of fund would be no different than when the county created its land bank – a fund which is used to purchase properties that have fallen on the delinquent tax rolls and can then be resold or developed by the county.
“You’re going to have to create by-laws. You’re going to have to create rules. And the rules are going to obviously state that they (local units of government) can’t contract with anyone other than the Charlevoix County Road Commission,” Christensen said. “We’re going to have to spell this out.”
He added, “The bigger issue you’re going to have here is that some of the townships are going to cry disparity because they don’t have the ability to raise enough funds, and that’s where the loan would be intending.”
Christensen said the fund could be used as local matching funds for local units of government that apply for state or federal grants – the money would still be used as a loan and would need to be repaid.
Harmon said one of the concerns with creating a fund like this is that the state could come back later and reduce the amount of funding to the county if it believes the county is taking care of its roads on its own.
Harmon said Charlevoix County will continue to receive less money because the State of Michigan is already looking to spend more road monies in areas with greater populations.
“They want to put it where the vehicles are,” Harmon said.
Christensen said this type of a fund would benefit units by allowing them to slowly pay off the loan amount over three years instead of being forced to come up with all the money for a road project at once.
If created, these loans would be interest-free.
Christensen said each township would potentially need to be studied to determine what their current and future road projects may be.
“We would all go back to our respective units and say we’re talking about this fund – you identify for us any roads you might consider putting on this list … that you’d be willing to use your millage on,” Gillespie said.
Harmon said that list could be compiled and used to calculate the number of miles, the type of roaddesired and how much it would cost.
Christensen said he would like to see paving left to the county road millage, but he could see this type of fund used for secondary roads that need dirt or gravel or widening.
“I think you’ve got to have some clear-cut defined boundaries so that there’s no abuse of the system and so that our expectations are clearly defined going in so we’re not leaving some mess for five years down the road for people to decipher what our intentions were,” Christensen said. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea, but I don’t think it’s necessary at this point in time.”
Gillespie said his idea is just to create a catalyst for improvement.
“We want to do this and have this there to encourage both economic development and we’d also want to use it as a vehicle to keep that mil going when the 15 years is up,” Gillespie said, referring to the current Charlevoix County Road Millage.
Harmon said by the time that millage has run its course, all the roads that never attended to will need to be dealt with.
Officials left the brainstorm session likely to discuss it further at an undetermined time.