BELDING — The status of road conditions in Michigan is nothing to brag about, and some of the worst examples can be found right here in Ionia County.
According to Ionia County Road Commissioner Albert Almy, the public consensus is that Michigan ranks near the bottom nationwide on the topic of road conditions, and of the 83 counties in the state, Ionia County ranks second-to-last in measuring the quality of roads.
“As an Ionia County Road Commissioner, that is something I do not take pride in, but it is a fact,” he said. “We have a road problem in Ionia County, a big one, and it has been coming and growing for several years.”
That problem, according to Almy, is $47.5 million in costs that it would take to properly fix the roads in Ionia County.
Almy said there are 390 miles of primary paved roads and 684 miles of gravel roads throughout Ionia County.
“We depend on these roads for business and economic development, schools, emergency vehicles, public safety, tourism, agriculture and revitalization of our communities,” he said.
Nearly 65 percent of the county’s paved roads are rated in poor condition by the state from many years of a lack of investment of funds.
Almy said a “cheap” reconstruction of crush, shape and asphalt overlay, would cost approximately $350,000 per mile. An alternate fix would be to grind up the road and turn it into gravel at a cost of only $30,000.
“At some point in time, if we’re not able to keep the primary road system up, we may have to turn to the gravel option,” he said.
The primary source of funds for road construction at the county level is the road commission’s share of state taxes.
Those taxes include the 19 cent per gallon gasoline tax and 15 cent per gallon diesel fuel tax, as well as a portion of license plate fees.
According to Almy, those revenue sources provide the county about $4.5 million per year.
“This revenue has been almost stagnant for the last 10 years as gas milage has increased on vehicles and rising gas and fuel prices have reduced miles driven by many of us,” he said. “In the same time period the cost of road materials, fuel, and repair parts has risen sharply.”
Almy said there have been talks in Lansing about increasing road funding, but said that’s all that any discussion has amounted to, is talk.
“I’m sorry to say that, at least up to this point, the talk far surpasses the action that we are seeing from Lansing,” he said. “I’m not optimistic about that being reversed anytime in the near future.”
The Legislature recently provided $100 million to county road commissions, cities and villages. Ionia County received $294,000 of that, which Almy said did not come close to covering the increased cost incurred to the county by the recent harsh winter.
“The Ionia County Road Commission has taken a long and hard look at the scope of the road problem,” he said. We do not believe we can depend on the Federal or State government to give us much help in fixing the roads.
Almy said 15 counties in Michigan currently have a road millage approved by voters, and said Ionia County is now looking that way.
Pursuing a road millage
According to Almy, a millage is the only avenue available for the Ionia County Road Commission to receive additional revenue.
“The only way we feel we can go for funds is to ask for a millage,” he said. “We have decided we are not doing our job if we don’t take the issue of needed funds for roads to the people to solve the problem created by a lack of investment in the road system.”
On April 22, the Ionia County Board of Commissioners approved a ballot request for 2 mills for six years to make improvements in the Ionia County road system. The ballot request will appear on the August 5 Primary Election ballot for voters to decide.
Almy said the millage request will raise about $3.1 million countywide for the county roads and city and village streets per year, totaling approximately $18.6 million over the six years.
“If approved by voters in August, the revenue generated will not fix the whole road problem in six years, but at least they will not be letting roads get worse for their families and communities,” he said.
Funding for Belding
Almy said if the millage were to pass, the estimated revenue that the city of Belding would receive is about $165,000 per year.
All of the revenue collected from Belding residents would stay in the city of Belding to be used for street and bridge work only.
According to Almy, a 2012 study showed that 11.8 percent of streets in the city were in “good” condition, 33.4 percent were in “fair” condition and 54.7 percent were in “poor” condition.
“It would appear that there is a need in Belding for funds for street improvements,” Almy said. “Approving this millage would help to solve some of those needed improvements.”
According to Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore, the statistics from 2012 have not improved.
Mullendore said over the period of six years the city would receive “at least” $970,000 in road funding.
“We would really start going to town, spending money, to make improvements to our streets,” she said. “We currently don’t receive much in funding.”
Mullendore said roads such as Demorest Street, which would require extensive work, could immediately be fixed if the millage were to pass.
A complete reconstruction of the 0.4-mile stretch from W. Ellis Street to Kenwood Avenue would cost approximately $120,000.
“For residents to see a major improvement to their streets in Belding, this millage needs to pass,” Mullendore said.
Mullendore said approximately $60,000 was used from the city’s Local Streets budget in 2013 to make repairs, but said there isn’t enough available to make long-lasting fixes to city streets.
“This millage would open up funding for us to actually fix the worst of our city streets, rather than making temporary patches,” she said.