Washtenaw County Road Commission Managing Director Steve Puuri provided a presentation on the condition of the state's transportation funds during the January 10 meeting of the Southwest Washtenaw Council of Governments (SWWCOG). Puuri informed the group that his presentation on road funding challenges was the first of many he is planning to make over the next several months to county and township officials, state legislators and citizens groups, to support the statewide Drive MI Campaign initiative.
To begin, the SWWCOG members were given a brief overview by Puuri of the many services road agencies provide, after which he explained how road commission services and county road and bridge systems are being impacted due to $9 billion in unmet needs statewide; and that current local road funding is $1.9 billion less than the system's annual funding needs.
Puuri further explained that exorbitant off-the-top deductions are being repeatedly transferred from the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF), the primary source of funding for road agencies statewide, in order to subsidize non-transportation state agencies, such as the Secretary of State, Recreation Fund and various administration grants, to name just a few. According to the Michigan Department of Transportation's (MDOT) statistics, these deductions rose to nearly $105 million in 2004 alone, which means that there is less funding for roads each year. This long-standing practice of imposing MTF transfers also means less assurance to road commissions that they can expect to receive adequate funding to maintain their county road systems now and in the future.
During the meeting, questions were raised by Pat Valliencourt, Manchester Village president and the SWWCOG chairperson, as well as Jolea Mull, the newly elected Bridgewater Township supervisor, as to how the MTF deductions and funding shortages have impacted Road Commission services directly.
Puuri explained the service level adjustments and other cost-saving measures that were approved by the Washtenaw County Board of Road Commissioners last November in order to effectively balance and work within a stagnant 2007 budget included reducing snow removal services on an overtime basis, requiring a 50/50 cost-sharing participation from townships for local road bridges, and reducing the annual pavement resurfacing program.
The Washtenaw County Road Commission budget has been decreasing since 2004. In 2007, the expected gas tax and vehicle registration revenues will be only $17.1 million, approximately $500,000 less than was received in 2006. Since these allocations provide for approximately 50 percent of the agency's total annual revenue, the Road Commission is finding that conducting business as usual within this flat or reduced funding level is not going to work anymore.
Statistics show that MTF revenues for the Road Commission have increased by only 49 percent since 1997 (coincidentally, when the last gas tax increase was imposed), while the cost for routine maintenance has increased by 87 percent. Health care costs alone for the agency increased $1.5 million per year since 2001. This, combined with other rising costs for equipment, materials and overhead expenses, has severely reduced the available capital spending by 62 percent since 1998.
At the close of his presentation, Puuri provided the SWWCOG members with handouts on the statewide Drive MI Campaign, which were developed and paid for by the Michigan Transportation Team (MTT), a partnership of businesses, associations and citizens linked with the common goal of improving Michigan's transportation infrastructure, finding a comprehensive solution for fully funding state and local transportation projects and ensuring a fair allocation of those resources throughout the state.
For more information on the MTT and Drive MI Campaign, and other transportation funding facts, visit their website at www.drivemi.org.