County board hears from public on road commission

REED CITY -- The Osceola County Board of Commissioners held its second of two public meetings Tuesday, Dec. 2, to hear from the public regarding the issue of returning to an appointed county road commission after operating as an elected commission for roughly the past 25 years.

Representatives from several townships within Osceola County spoke in favor of maintaining elected road commission members.

Rose Lake Township Supervisor Roy Kissinger said he and his board members believe the road commission works well as it is.

The township board decides what projects to have done with input from the road commission manager, then presents the plan to the road commission in the spring, he said.

"People are always going to complain about road maintenance," Kissinger added. "As far as we're concerned, they do a really good job. The members are elected to represent the entire county, which they do, and we prefer things be left the way they are."

Ivan Giese, a BOC member when the road commission was switched in 1992, told the board the commissioners at that time decided to do away with appointed road commissioners in favor of elected to free up the commissioners to do the county's business rather than spending time answering complaints about road maintenance.

"We decide, as a group, to have an elected road commission so we didn't have to answer the phone every time someone wanted road work done and that gave us more time to do our work as county commissioners," Giese said.

"It seems to me, if you take over the road commission, you will regress back to the way it was. You have enough to do, so let this drop and go back about the county business."

Giese said township boards should be responsible for checking the roads and deciding what repairs are needed. The public, he said, should be taking their complaints to the township board, who can then take them to the road commission.

"Some of the complaints you are hearing now is what you will hear if you appoint the road commission and all of these things will come directly to you instead of to them," he said.

Former Hersey Township Board member Tom Fabus told the board the road commission has been responsive, willing to work with the township on road projects, cooperative in the process and innovative in how to go about the projects.

He agreed that complaints being voiced should be handled at the township board level rather that the road commission, since the township board controls a lot of what gets done, deciding where they put their priorities, and directing where and how the money gets spent and on which road.

These issues could be addressed with a more proactive approach at the township level, he added.

"I see no reason to move to where we are no longer directly voting for the members that deal with our problems and help us solve them," Fabus said.

Hartwick Township Supervisor Randal VanBuren said the biggest problem with the road commission is not having enough employees or enough funding.

"If you don't have the proper funds to hire people to maintain the roads, how are you going to get anything done?" he said. "You're not going to get good drivers until you pay a decent wage and give them 40 hours a week."

VanBuren said he and his township board are in favor of keeping the road commission as an elected position.

BOC member Timothy Michell reiterated he believed a lack of communication between the road commission and the community is a big issue.

He suggested the board of commissioners appoint a liaison to the road commission and that road commission members regularly attend township meetings to keep abreast of issues that come up.

"Appointment of a liaison to the road commission is in the works and will be done after the first of the year," BOC Chairman Jack Nehmer said.

Road commissioner Alan Gingrich told the board that he has visited all 16 townships in the county and all but two have supported maintaining an elected road commission.

"I hope you will respect the wishes of the townships with regards to this," he said.

The board did not make a motion regarding the issue and did not appear to have a consensus on the next action to take moving forward.