Taking charge for mucho dinero

June 19, 2002

The village people are acting macho.

Michigan Gov. John Engler is the one being picked on, too. The state currently has a proposal to raise the diesel fuel tax by four cents a gallon to generate an extra $38 million. Engler, however, wants to send $31 million of that money to the state highway agency and set aside another $5 million to fix or replace deteriorating bridges, leaving $2 million to be divided among 83 local governments. City officials aren’t going to take it.

The village people are acting macho.

Michigan Gov. John Engler is the one being picked on, too. The state currently has a proposal to raise the diesel fuel tax by four cents a gallon to generate an extra $38 million. Engler, however, wants to send $31 million of that money to the state highway agency and set aside another $5 million to fix or replace deteriorating bridges, leaving $2 million to be divided among 83 local governments. City officials aren’t going to take it.

Livonia is approaching the move with a take-charge attitude. Mayor Jack Kirksey is asking his people to approve a millage proposal this August to raise $42 million over 10 years for road repairs. Neighbors Ypsilanti and Farmington Hills also have chosen to generate on their own.

“At the end of each year our roads are in worse shape than they were at the beginning of the year,” Kirksey told Roads & Bridges.

And Kirksey’s kingdom is a pretty important one in terms of commerce. Livonia is located about halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor and lies on an axis of two expressways—I-96 and I-275. The city has about 420 miles worth of road and holds 5,700 businesses. There’s one food distribution facility where 300 trucks a day feed into.

“Our roads are getting beat up pretty badly by heavy trucks,” said Kirksey. About $2 million from the state is earmarked for repair and replacement annually, but it’s not enough.

A pavement management study was done in the area in 1999. The condition of each mile of road was rated along with a report of what was needed in improvements. Results revealed Livonia would need an additional $4 million a year for 10 years to return the system to a good condition.

With a millage, one mill would be $1 of every $1,000 assessed against a resident’s property. Kirksey is asking for 9⁄10ths of a mill, which means the average Livonian with a $167,000 home could be charged about $64 annually in increased taxes.

“We had two choices, to fund it with millage or bond money,” said Kirksey. “We would have to sell about $59 million in bonds to do $42 million in roads. (With the millage) we don’t lose any interest.”

Currently, most improvements are done through special assessment districts. “This means if 51% of the people wanted their roads improved in front of their house then they would pay 85% of the cost and the city would pay 15%. But this requires special hearings and they have to petition to be considered for it. It’s a very cumbersome project,” said Kirksey.

Confusion, however, is setting in. Some residents are against the millage because they believe the increase in the diesel fuel tax will help alleviate some funding problems. City officials are going door-to-door to raise support, and according to Kirksey the proposal has a 66% approval rating. People can log onto a website, punch in their street address and find out exactly how much the millage will cost. They also can track what repairs will take place over the next 10 years and see the index rating their road received from the pavement management study.

But there’s no question maintenance has been a slow and trying issue in Lavonia, and Seven Mile Road serves as a perfect example. Two years ago crews rebuilt a 2-mile section of the historic route which was paved in 1919. Other battered stretches of the road have only been patched.

“If we can’t get the millage to go through, in another 10 years this will look like a third-world country,” said Kirksey.