Pontiac Council Declines Letting Voters Decide on Road Funding

Pontiac Council Declines Letting Voters Decide on Road FundingReid_Sally_115

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Jan. 29, 2015)

The roads in Pontiac are in far from ideal condition, but the option to raise taxes to fix them won’t go on the ballot in the near future.

A ballot proposal was presented to Pontiac City Council at the Jan. 22 meeting that would let voters decide if a one mil increase to property taxes should levied to go to local street repair. The measure would have gone on the May 5, 2015 ballot. The assessment would have cost the average homeowner in Pontiac $15.63 per year and would have provided the City with MBREW draft one$550,000 to use on repairing local streets. For a homeowner with a $100,000 valued home, the cost would have been $101 dollars.  Though this would be far from the millions needed to repair everything, it would be a start in making some repairs.

However with a split vote of 4-3, Councilmembers tabled the ballot question indefinitely.

Councilperson Kermit Williams introduced the measure, along with data about Pontiac’s roads and a video from the City of Royal Oak answering frequently asked questions from when they went to the voters for a millage increase.

“We want companies to come to Pontiac. We want people to live here. But who is going to want to live here when they come in and drive on roads like this,” Williams said. “I don’t know if this issidebar01reader_support the answer or not, but I think the voters should have a chance to vote for themselves.”

Williams had asked City Administrator is Josephn Sobota to gather data on road conditions, and alternative funding mechanisms for repairs.

Funding-wise, Sabota explained that roads were divided into major roads (like Woodward) and local streets, and that most often grant money – which itself is even rare – tends to be limited to major roads.

There is also a state-wide vote on the May 5 ballot to raise the sales tax from 6% to 7%, excluding fuel. This is expected to raise $1.3 billion a year for roads, $300million for schools and gardenfreshAD$95million for local governments. There is companion legislation that shifts around other funding mechanisms, the complexities of which are well-outlined in this MLive piece: http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2015/01/poll_support_for_michigan_road.html.

Regardless of what happens with the state-wide vote, competition for funds will be stiff, and only 25% of the funds will be allocated for local streets, with 75% going to major roads. “Let me be very clear to everyone out there, when you vote to raise the sales tax, that will not go to fix our local roads here in Pontiac,” she said.

Another option for repairing streets would be to do special assessments. That would be where a road would be repaired and the property owners would be charged part of the total bill based on their property. This is a much less efficient system, but some cities use it for small, targeted steele lindbloom adprojects. In this case the cost would be in the thousands for people living or owning businesses on the streets being repaired.

Sobota also shared maps that showed road conditions based on the PASER (Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating) scale. Maps for local roads and roads that could potentially qualify for Federal aid were shown, and the amount of red and yellow lines (red being poor and yellow being fair) were not a surprise to anyone.

Nonetheless, members of council were split on whether to let voters make a decision on the expense.

Councilperson Mark Holland questioned the rationale of raising taxes when the City was in the process of two lawsuits – one over the Phoenix Center and one over retiree healthcare benefits. royal_servicesHe said that those suits could impact the finances of the City and that the taxpayers may end up being on the hook for those expenses too.

Holland and fellow Councilperson Doris Taylor Burkes said they would never vote to raise taxes. Council President Pro Tem Mary Pietila also did not want to ask taxpayers to pay for roads. Pietila grew up in Michigan’s Upper Pennsula. She related her experience there, saying that roads up there are built to last and she questioned if the City had been getting shortchanged by contractors in the past. Sobota explained that in SE Michigan there is much more wear and tear on roads, resulting in quicker deterioration.

Pietila, Waterman, Taylor-Burks and Carter voted to “defer until further notice” the resolution for placing road funding on the ballot.seed01_bridget and kevin deegan krause

Holland, Williams and Woodward voted against deferring it, with Holland making it clear that he was not in support of the millage, rather that he wanted to end it completely rather than deferring it.  Mayor Waterman was not present.

“There will never be anybody who comes up to an elected official and says I want to pay more in taxes,” Williams said.

Williams said Pontiac had not approved millage increases since 1980. “We’re not used to having these discussions so they’re met with such visceral responses,” he said.  “It’s going to take shared sacrifice…  How do we get to the place where you can ask questions?”

Williams was disappointed in the vote, saying “I can’t let the fate of the City be in the politician’s hands. I want it in the people’s hands.”

In 2012 Pontiac voters rejected a ballot proposal to raise taxes to fund retire healthcare.

The information on the PASER ratings and other data are included in the Council packet at http://www.pontiac.mi.us/councilagendapack_012215.pdf.

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