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The Meridian Township Board of Trustees has released its key strategic goals for the year and top among them is finding a longterm funding structure to keep up with road repairs.
“I know people complain a lot about our roads and they’re not great, but they’re not horrendous either,” said the township manager, Frank Walsh, describing them as a 4 or 5 on a scale of 10. “A lot of communities right now are looking at twos and threes.”
But a solution will be tricky since the township is not legally required to pay for the upkeep on its 352 miles of local and primary roads. That’s a county responsibility, said Derek Perry, assistant township manager.
Nonetheless, the township supplements county roadwork with a combination of general fund dollars and from a 0.2484 mill dedicated for roads.
“The dedicated road millage generated $401,657 in 2016, $407,700 in 2017 and $416,200 for 2018,” Perry said. “General Fund transfer was $175,000 in 2016, $295,000 in 2017 and $550,000 is budgeted for 2018.”
That means for 2018, the township has just over $966,000 available for road improvements.
“We get a match from the county of about $115,000,” said Walsh. “I can tell you, every dollar from our road fund is spent on roads. There is no administrative cost at all. The administrative cost comes out of the general fund.”
With just under $1.1 million available, road replacement is a tough nut to crack. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. It costs $1 million to strip down and repave one mile of road. That leaves the county and township patching roads and doing small repairs, rather than full replacements of the roads.
The township annually informs residents of how the road millage money is spent and where, Walsh said.
“We have a complete list and we put that out every year to our residents, in writing, and it delineates every road and every cost,” Walsh said. “We’ve been doing that for years. We’re very transparent about what we do and where the money goes.”
With 35 percent of the township’s roads rated as poor on the Pavement and Surface Evaluation and Rating system, or PASER, a reckoning is coming. Seventy percent of the primary roads are rated as good, while 63 percent of the local, or neighborhood, roads are rated that way. Twenty-six percent of the primary roads and just 6 percent of the local roads are rated as very good in their condition.
To figure out how to tackle the township’s roads, Walsh said the government is going to have to do a lot of research.
“What we need to do, certainly by this summer, is come up with the comprehensive plan, which is what this calls for,” he said of the strategic goals plan authorized by the township board. ”How do we go about this? What is the cost and how do we go about it?” He said there are municipal models. “There are communities, like Spring Arbor Township and others down in the Jackson area who’ve gone for significant mills, like I think three or four mills a year, for a number of years to completely overhaul their entire road system,” Walsh said. “And their tax base isn’t near what Meridian Township’s is. I don’t know where this is going to come out, but if we ended up needing a millage, it would be a very significant millage to get this done.”
Would such a millage fly? He said he doesn’t have “the appetite” to ask voters for a millage. But he acknowledges that there may be no other way to raise funds for repairs.
But there could be other cost saving measures. He noted that when the Ingham County Road Commission identifies the roads it will repair during construction season and bid them out in a bundle.
“There’s some cost savings in that. We have a long way to go and it’s very high on our residents’ list. We know that from surveys about just how important the roads are to the community,” Walsh said.
That in turn points toward possible regionalism. Lansing, East Lansing, and other communities could come together to bid out road work as bundles. He said that would be a “great idea.”
funding road repairs, Walsh said, comes down to innovation, whether it takes the form of regionalism or some other mechanism. The funding gap from reduced state revenue sharing continues to pinch the communities of Ingham County as they attempt to do more with less.
As for those roads? “We’ve got to get ourselves from a four or five up to a seven or an eight,” Walsh said. “That’s going to take a lot of work to get there, but if it’s on the list, it’s got full attention.”