Road Commission millage approved for November ballot

OSCEOLA COUNTY– When the dust settles, residents in Osceola County will see a 1 mil Road Commission millage on the ballot in November. The millage would bring in $662,000 and is specified to be used for brining, maintenance and repairs to streets in the county.

The commissioners approved the millage’s inclusion on the ballot with a 5-2 vote at the meeting April 3 after a discussion based on resident input about whether or not the millage would pass.

The millage would fund the brining of the county’s 652 miles of gravel roads to help control dust.The brining would be outsourced to a professional company and completed twice per year. Currently roads are brined once each year.

“Our number one complaint in Osceola County is dust control on gravel roads,” said Cliff Youngs, Osceola County Road Commission supervisor.

Areas with few or no gravel roads, including the Citys of Reed City and Evart and the Villages of Marion, Hersey, Leroy and Tustin, could choose to use the money gained for road maintenance and repairs as they see fit.

The Road Commission has downsized from 34 employees in 2002 to a current force of 21 employees. Youngs said after coping with cuts for so long, the road commission needs the millage to maintain quality roads in the county.

“Without a solution we cannot continue to provide these services to the county,” Youngs said. “If your revenue stream can’t support it, how can we give people what they expect?”

Commissioner Alan Tiedt, who represents Middle Branch Township, Orient Township, Sylvan Township and the east half of Evart Township voted against the millage’s inclusion and said residents from his area of the county did not want to see the millage on the ballot because they only expect their roads to be brined once.

Commissioner Dave Brooks, who also voted against the millage’s inclusion, said township officials in Hersey did not want the millage on the ballot due to lack of follow-through by previous road commission projects.

“With the input I’ve been given, I think it would be a waste of time,” Brooks said.

Though doubts were raised about resident approval of the millage, some saw the millage as a positive step toward county road maintenance.

“I’m not opposed to a fair tax of some kind. I’m not sure how we can keep shrinking revenues and expect to have the same services.” said Commissioner Larry Emig, who voted for the inclusion. “I’ve always felt it should be the people who decide, and if they don’t want it, they won’t approve it.”

Youngs said another advantage to the millage would be that the brining job would be completed quicker. Currently it takes the county five months to get around to each gravel road in the county using their own trucks and staff. A professional company could complete the job in two weeks using a larger fleet of trucks and devoting full-time efforts to the project.

Brining roads is a two-step process that includes gravel roads being raked and a brine solution applied. Along with controlling dust, brining extends the life of gravel roads.

The road commission proposed a similar county-wide millage in 2008 that was not approved. The funds in the previous millage were not specified as to what they would be used for. Youngs hopes the specification of funds will help gain support for the millage in November.

The road commission currently uses $350,000 annually from their general fund on brining roads. Youngs said if the millage passed, that money would be re-allocated for other needed road improvements, such as repairing roads with chip and crack seals, the replacement of culverts and bridges, the purchase of salt in the winter and spraying unwanted grass and weeds that crowd the sides of roads.

In other business, the commission:

  •  heard from Osceola County resident Mark Lazarus, who addressed the board about unauthorized county presence on his property;
  •  approved the Emergency Management application to the Storm Ready program, a program by the national weather service which recognizes communities taking steps to prepare for storms;
  •  approved the continuation of the Osceola County Commission on Aging Retired Senior Volunteer Program.