The roads in Ionia County are among the worst in the state.
On Tuesday, residents voted by a narrow margin — just 56 votes — to let the matter lie for now.
By a margin of 3,097 to 3,041 votes, residents denied a millage proposal that would have raised about $3.1 million per year countywide for county, city and village streets over the next six years for a total of $18.6 million.
The proposal was for 2 mills for six years.
While promoting the millage earlier this year, Ionia County Road Commissioner Albert Almy noted that the poor condition of county roads has been adversely affecting economic development in the area.
“We depend on these roads for business and economic development, schools, emergency vehicles, public safety, tourism, agriculture and revitalization of our communities,” Almy said.
Most road construction funding comes from the county’s share of state taxes, which include the 19 cent per gallon gas tax and 15 cent per gallon diesel fuel tax, along with a portion of state license plate fees. Taken in tandem, these fees provide about $4.5 million per year, but have remained virtually unchanged for the past decade.
The costs related to road construction, however, have risen precipitously, leading to a shortfall.
The city of Belding stood to receive about $165,000 per year. With a 2012 study showing 54.7 percent of streets there to be in “poor” condition, the need for improvements is particularly acute.
Almy earlier noted the millage would not have fixed every road problem countywide in the next six years, but would have at least prevented roads from becoming even worse.
“I was kind of expecting (the vote) might be close,” Almy said. “But we were optimistic it would pass. The voters decided they don’t want to invest in the country’s primary and local roads. It’s a disappointment, but I respect the decision of the voters.”
Almy added the lack of funding is going to make it particularly difficult for the commission to make any road improvements in the near future, however, barring unforeseen funding from other quarters.
“Residents are going to have to understand our local and primary roads won’t see much improvement unless state and federal government provides more money to the county,” Almy said. “And if they do, that will most likely come from user fees like the gas tax and registration fees. Unfortunately, Ionia County would only see a small fraction of that come back to the county.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”