Road commissions ask state officials for funding
Brian Gutowski, Emmet County Road Commission manager/engineer, shows Sen. Howard Walker and Rep. Frank Foster road funding statistics at a meeting Friday. Walker and Foster were present to meet with the road commission and other county officials to discuss options for fixing the road funding problem. (DAVID HOPKINS/NEWS-REVIEW)
Officials from the Emmet County Board of Commissioners, five county road commissions and several townships were at the meeting to discuss options to reduce the funding problems with Northern Michigan roads.
Currently, road improvement funding comes from a 19 cents per gallon gasoline tax, a 15 cents per gallon diesel tax and a portion of vehicle registration. According to Brain Gutowski, Emmet County Road Commission manager/engineer, the tax isn't enough to maintain the county's roads and should be increased.
"Altogether we are down almost $364,000 since we peaked in 2004. The Department of Treasury is telling us to expect a 3 percent decline this year. That puts us below year 2000 funding levels for this year," Gutowski said.
He further said not only is road funding down, but the cost of road construction and maintenance is up, making it even more difficult to maintain roads. "Where will the funds come from to help us out? And we're not the only ones with a problem. There are other road commissions here who have their story also," Gutowski continued.
State legislators discussed an increase in the gas tax in 2010, but the idea was voted down in December. County and township officials are now asking them to bring the bill back to increase the tax and save roads.
"The infrastructure is essential to everything that's going on in this state and I think you just have to find the political will to increase the gas tax," said Gene Reck, Cross Village Township supervisor.
Sen. Howard Walker indicated that he understands the frustrations, but doesn't believe the state will institute a gas tax to fix the situation any time in the near future.
"I know this problem has been around for years and I've heard similar stories in other counties, but the legislature, I think for the most part, ran on not raising taxes," Walker said.
Other options, such as pulling money from other areas and eliminating unfunded state mandates on road commissions were discussed as possible fixes to the road funding crisis, but the commissions kept coming back to the gas tax as the solution to the problem.
"If we would start today and put 2 cents a gallon on each year for 10 years I don't think anybody who drives or anybody who votes would have a problem with it when they see the money going back into the roads. To me that's the only way to do it. It's got to be in the gas tax," said Keith Ogden, Charlevoix County Road Commission vice chair.
Before the meeting was adjourned Foster and Walker were challenged to go back to Lansing and find a solution for the road funding problem.
"I'd like to see (Sen. Walker and Rep. Foster) be innovators and be leaders at the state level. Don't just sit around and wait for somebody else to come up with a solution," said Shawn Wonnacott, Emmet County commissioner.
Whatever the answer is, whether it's going to make someone mad or it's going to make someone happy, you've got to get it done. That's what you were elected to do and you've got to make it happen," Wonnacott added.
The state officials agreed to look deeper into the road funding issue during their terms in office and stay in contact with the road commissions as they seek to find a solution.