What began as an overview of the road commission’s annual status ended with county officials considering pulling certain library funding.
Prompted by comments from Charlevoix County Commissioner George T. Lasater (R-District 1), the board directed staff to look into the feasibility of passing a county law that would redirect fines imposed on overweight trucks from the current benefactor, local libraries, to local law enforcement and the road commission.
“When I was sheriffing [sic] we had the weigh master program where we’d work on overloaded/overweight trucks in the special season; and, if they were stopped and given tickets, those fines ranged from $1,000 to $3,000,” Lasater said. “I was always curious; where does that money go? Does that money stay locally?”
A road commission official informed Lasater that the funds go to public libraries.
According to the 2012 Michigan Public Libraries Data Digest, nearly 6.05 percent of nearly $413 million in library funding statewide came from penal fines.
For example, Charlevoix Public Library expected to receive $40,848 of their $1,011,721 operating revenues for the 2001-2012 fiscal year.
The Boyne District Library, in 2010, received $40,920 which was 7.37 percent of its $531,584 in general revenues.
The Jordan Valley District Library, in 2012, received $29,691.91 in penal fines for a total revenues of $404,274.
“A hundred percent goes back to libraries? Yet, the road commission and the sheriff’s office is paying the dime to get it done,” Lasater said. “This doesn’t seem fair. It doesn’t seem like a level playing field to me. What can be done to change that?”
Local county treasurers collect the penal fines and wait for the Library of Michigan to send information, which it does on an annual basis, informing them which libraries qualify for funding and, based on population, how much funding each library is to receive.
However, the Library of Michigan does not control which libraries receive funding.
Charlevoix County commissioners discussed appointing their civil counsel to research whether they could pass the new law.
Charlevoix County Commissioner Larry Sullivan (R-District 6) said it may be a case where local units of government will have to sign off on such a change.
“Under any circumstances I don’t think we would want to just do away with the weigh master program even though it’s costing local dollars because it’s saving local roads,” he said. “One part of it is the financial—in terms of who gets those fines—the other part of it is that we don’t want overweight trucks out there destroying the roads because we’ve got a county-wide road millage to try and maintain our roads … and we don’t want to go through and make improvements and then have somebody tear the heck out of it.”
Charlevoix County Commissioner Chris Christensen (R-District 2) said the county has increased its net road assets by $9 million last year and the county needs to protect those assets.
Charlevoix County Commission Board Chairman Joel Evans (R-District 4) moved to refer the matter to the Charlevoix County Building & Grounds Committee for further investigation.