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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2011

Officials to weigh next step to fund road fixes

Levy loss means regrouping for solutions

BLADE STAFF

TEMPERANCE -- Figuring out why the 1-mill property tax proposal to fund road repairs and maintenance failed will be on the agenda of the Nov. 18 Bedford Township road committee meeting, township officials said.

The levy request, which the township envisioned as the best shot for getting its deteriorating roads fixed and quickly plowed in the winter, lost by nearly 500 votes -- 3,356-2,875. The official results show that 46 percent of the township residents voted for the issue.

Trustee Paul Francis, a member of the road committee, which developed the proposal and pushed for passage, was among the disappointed township officials on election night. He said he thought the 10-year levy had a good chance of winning.

Mr. Francis said the committee will regroup and look at what they learned from the election and then go from there. Going back on the ballot but with a retooled proposal are among the possibilities the committee could consider, he said.

"I think we got to come back with something with the roads the way the are. They are not going to get any better if we wait because the [Monroe County] road commission doesn't have any money to fix the roads," Mr. Francis said.

The earliest that the township could return to the ballot would be in February when Michigan will hold a primary. Township officials would have to make a decision 60 days before the election.

It was back in early 2009 that the township began floating the idea to ask voters for the tax to fund road improvements and maintenance. The board even hired an expert, Ralph Lange, a former Monroe County Road Commission manager, to work for the township as a consultant.

He wrote a study of the roads, bridges, and culverts in the township, including the money that was spent on the infrastructure in the past and how to preserve the investment the township had made in the system. A long-term master plan for possible projects down the road was developed from the consultant's work.

The township was looking at going on the ballot in August, 2010, and set up five public forums to discuss Mr. Lange's findings and options for funding a maintenance program. However, the township road committee shelved the idea after the first two forums.

Although the levy was put on the back burner, Mr. Lange continued as a consultant for the township on road maintenance and planning issues. Records show that he has been paid $5,141 since July 1.

The decision to go on the ballot was made after a township survey showed strong support for the issue. Five hundred of the 700 survey respondents said they would vote for such a dedicated tax.

In the weeks before the election, the township held a series of public forums to address concerns about the tax request and explain the proposed maintenance program that involved sending money to the Monroe County Road Commission to work specifically on road repair and maintenance on township roads, including snow plowing to clear the township's secondary and subdivisions.

Levy money also would have been used as the local match to obtain federal and state grants for projects.

Mr. Francis said feedback from the meetings indicated that some residents didn't like the openness of an imposed 10-year levy, and perhaps a five-year levy request would have been a better idea. He said 10 years was chosen because of the advanced planning needed for doing projects with state and federal grants.

Mr. Francis said the township may have little recourse but to go back to the ballot because of the funding situation in Michigan for roads.

"I think the stakes are too high to ignore it and not do anything because the road commission will not have enough money until the state legislature gets its act together," he said.

The Nov. 8 election was considered a special election in the township because no other issues or races were on the ballot. Garnet Francis of the clerk's office said about 28 percent of registered voters went to the polls, which is considered a good turnout for a special election. She said 1,786 people voted by absentee ballot, which is typical for any election.

The road millage request was voteddown in six of the eight precincts, passing only in Precinct 2-B and 5-E.

-- Mark Reiter



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