ALPENA - County road commissions around the state will be paying close attention to what Gov. Rick Snyder has to say during his State of the State address on Wednesday. The governor is expected to shed some light on how he intends to improve the condition of roads and where the money will come to do it.
Currently a portion of county road commission funds received from the state come via the gas tax, which trickles its way to the counties after going through a complicated formula that determines how the money will be divided. According to Alpena County Road Commission Managing Director Larry Orcutt, the governor has indicated the formula is obsolete and needs to revamped.
Orcutt said if this occurs, it could lead to more money from the state, or less. He said many county roads are in poor shape and road commissions are struggling to improve them because of a lack of money. Orcutt said currently road commissions get only 39 percent of the road funds. He said he fears a change to the formula, which has been in place since the 1950s, could have a negative impact on the money the state provides.
"We need, and are looking for, some help which would allow us to do a reasonably good job of meeting the public's expectations for the roads," Orcutt said. "Right now there is just not enough funding for us to do that. What concerns us is the distribution formula of the transportation funds. There are ideas to change it out. Concern is it may cause the amount of dollars to go down and not up."
Orcutt said if it is determined in Lansing less money will be allocated to the counties, other means of increasing revenue will be examined, including local millages or higher registration costs. Currently in Alpena County only Long Rapids Township has a millage in place for road improvements.
"Ultimately we would have to ask the residents to fund the level of transportation they desire," Orcutt said. "A millage is one option and there are other alternate ways to fund our road projects. Another option would be to raise the fees for vehicle registration."
Currently none of the sales tax is designated toward road and bridge improvements. Orcutt said there are some whispers in Lansing that a percentage of it or a larger percentage of the gas tax could be put into the transportation fund and distributed to the counties.
"One thing I hope they do is consider minimising the off-the-top diversion from the funds," Orcutt. "Right now there is a considerable amount which comes off the top and given to other state agencies. The Secretary of State gets some, the attorney general gets some. That wouldn't be a big fix, but it would be more money."
Orcutt said Act 51, which addressed the allocation of the money from the transportation fund, has been working fine and when there were issues with it minor amendments to it have been made. He said Snyder believes it is outdated and fears a change to the formula could cause more harm to the county road commissions than good.
"Act 51 has been amended like 65 times and the formula has been changed to stay consistent with times," Orcutt said. "It is not a formula which is simple, but it doesn't seem to be obsolete. If the formula is changed we could lose money. If that happens we will have no choice but to come up with other ways to increased revenue. Our roads are in very poor shape and we have certain obligations to meet by law and each year the roads are not done it becomes more expensive to do them."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.