Combining County boards and road commissions

Governor Rick Snyder said back in October that he’d like to reduce the size of government by allowing counties to manage roads. He called road commissions “unneeded.”

We agree. As we’ve mentioned before, by default counties cannot manage roads. That must be handled by a separate county government called a road commission. It’s archaic and not cost effective.

House Bills 5125 and 5126 will make it possible to consolidate these separate county governments. While both the House and Senate have passed variations of the bill, the House must approve of the Senate’s legislative changes.

According to a Detroit News article:

The Michigan House has approved measures that would allow county boards of commissioners to take over the powers and duties of county road commissions.

Appointed county road commissions could be dissolved by a majority vote of a county’s board of commissioners. Voters would have the final decision on whether to dissolve road commissions in counties where road commissioners are elected.

Ingham County is looking to absorb their road commission. Macomb and Wayne Counties went through the onerous county charter process which let them absorb their road commissions earlier.

What about Oakland County?

The Spinal Column has thorough coverage on this topic.

“(Oakland County Executive L.) Brooks (Patterson) has no desire to take us over, and if anyone studies the issue, they wouldn’t want to,” [RCOC Spokesperson Craig] Bryson said. We don’t think there would be an immediate response, but there could be in the future.”

One conclusion from reading the article is that some government officials are against it and willing to make rather outlandish claims as to why.

Bryson claims it “By moving the jurisdiction to the counties, it forces counties to raise property taxes to fund roads.” Not true. Roads are paid for through a separate funding stream. If this were the case, why would tax-averse Macomb County absorb their road commission?

County Commissioner Jim Runestad said,”In Oakland County, if (the county board) were to take over the RCOC, it would be highly politicized and the politics would weigh in on every decision.” Every decision? Is that what happens now at the local, state, and federal levels, all of which manage roads without a separate governmental body? Of course not.

The current system of electing Oakland County road commissioners is highly political. The Republican majority chooses a road commissioner every couple years and controls the process. It’s a separate county government that’s fully controlled by the Republican majority, and that is the likely reason why the Road Commission for Oakland County will continue in the near future.

Commissioner Runestead told the Spinal Column, “If there was a change in leadership on the county board, the RCOC’s days could be numbered.”

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4 Responses to “Combining County boards and road commissions”

  1. Andrew Mutch Says:

    I don’t have a strong opinion on Oakland County taking on the responsibility over roads. As you correctly noted, the biases reflected by the current RCOC leadership is mirrored at the county level by the County BOC and the County Executive. Changing who’s in charge wouldn’t lead to any significant changes in the short-term. But the handwringing by the County Commissioners about taking responsibility for the roads makes no sense. Almost every city and village in the city runs their own road department to manage locally controlled streets and they manage to do it without a standalone local road commission. Why can’t the County do the same?

    Of course, the real problem with the Road Commission is that they have a massive road network that can’t be supported by the funding they get. Unlike cities and villages, which have some opportunity to offset the cost of new roads with revenue from new development, the Road Commission gets zero new revenue when new development leads to new and widened roads. All that new infrastructure needs to be maintained and eventually replaced but the Road Commission gets no revenue from that development. This system that allows Townships to approve new development with no consideration of the short and long-term impacts that places on the Road Commission is unsustainable. The pleas from the Road Commission for increased gas taxes and mileage-based taxes won’t address the inherit unsustainable nature of how we allow untrammeled development. Cities and villages aren’t much better off but they at least have the ability to levy local millages to capture some of that value and plow it back into roads. The future liabilities for the long-term replacement of our road system has to be somewhere in the billions of dollars range.

  2. Eric Says:

    In Indiana and other states, the Board of County Commissioners is in charge of roads via the County Engineer. There is no need of a seperate Road Commissions entity.

  3. Todd Scott Says:

    @Andrew, I absolutely agree with what you wrote.

    @Eric, According to the Governor, Michigan is the only state with separate county road commissions.

  4. Andy Says:

    Todd, once again you’ve connected the dots nicely: Partisanship as Occam’s razor. L. Brooks & his fellow Republicans are for getting more bang out of the government buck… except when it’s politically inconvenient for them.

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