Failure to communicate?

Joint meeting with road commission board sought

MARQUETTE — The Marquette Township Board is seeking a better means of communication with the Marquette County Road Commission and its board.

The township board voted unanimously at its regular meeting on Tuesday to send a letter to the Marquette County Board of Commissioners — the governing body that appoints members to the board of the Marquette County Road Commission.

The letter is intended to help facilitate more open communication between the Marquette Township Board and the road commission to come up with a joint plan for township roads.

The township is a few punch-list items away from the completion of its $7.5 million Local Roads Rehabilitation Project. About 34 miles of the township’s estimated 60 miles of roads were involved in the three-year project, which is being paid for by a 1.5-mill, 15-year millage approved by township voters in 2014, township Supervisor Lyn Durant said.

Marquette Township has made repeated requests to hold a joint board-to-board meeting with the Marquette County Road Commission to discuss a long-term plan for road maintenance, but the board of road commissioners has declined each time, Durant said.

“We got this two-page letter back from Ray (Roberts) saying basically they are not interested in meeting with us,” Durant said. “So I wrote back because I thought, ‘Well maybe they just misunderstood that we just want to have a conversation.'”

Durant said she received a call from Roberts, the chairman of the Marquette County Road Commission board, following her most recent letter.

“So I got a call back from Ray last week, saying, ‘You know we are just not interested in meeting with you,'” Durant said. “If you want to talk, you need to talk to staff. He apologized, but he said we don’t do that, we don’t meet with our townships.”

Marquette County Road Commission Engineer Manager Jim Iwanicki said that MCRC commissioners are not comfortable with a board-to-board meeting with Marquette Township because operational decisions are made by Marquette County Road Commission management — not the board.

“If the question is plowing and maintenance in Marquette Township,” Iwanicki said. “The board does not do that. If it is operationally in Marquette Township, (road commission) management has that answer already. My board doesn’t decide we are going to mow in Marquette Township this week or should I mow in Ely Township — staff decides that.”

Additionally, any decision during a board-to-board meeting with any one township may be unfair to the other 18 townships under the Marquette County Road Commissions jurisdiction, Iwanicki said.

“We have 19 townships in Marquette County,” Iwanicki said. “My board wants to make sure that all are treated equally.”

Iwanicki said there are currently two forums available for townships to discuss road concerns with the MCRC board.

“There is a Township Relations Committee meeting every other month, and board members attend Marquette County Townships Association meetings as well,” he said.

Durant said the Marquette Township Board simply wants better communication with the county road commission because effectively MCRC owns and is responsible for the roads in the township.

“That is part of what we are trying to figure out, is how can we keep these ditches up, how can we keep these roads in good shape because they are their (MCRC) roads,” Durant said. “We put $7.4 million of taxpayer money into your roads and that’s why I said: What did you budget for us this year? — nothing, what did you budget for us next year? They don’t have a budget set up of priorities and projects. They get together once a week and say, ‘What needs attention this week? Let’s do that.’ and then next week they do the same thing.” There is no forethought – there is no plan.”

Iwanicki said 14 other townships in Marquette County have or are considering millages to fund road repair or reconstruction.

“We need to make the roads safe to travel for Marquette County residents — our partners (townships) are huge in that,” Iwanicki said. “They spend a lot of money on roads in Marquette County. In 2016 — this does not include the millage work in Marquette Township — townships spent $1.5 million on their road systems.”

To properly maintain and fix — including chip or crack sealing on the county’s primary road systems, which are the numbered roads — Marquette County Road 581 for example, would cost $58 million, Iwanicki said.

It would cost an additional $105 million for local road systems which consist of the named or lettered roads, and $24 million for bridges.

By comparison, the Marquette County Road Commission received $6.1 million in Act 51 gas and weight revenue from the state of Michigan in 2016, according to a year-end MCRC audit report.

The Act 51 funds serve as base funding for MCRC operations, he said, but those are not the only funds the commission receives.

In addition to some road repairs and maintenance and plowing in the winter, the MCRC is responsible for the grating of gravel roads, sweeping, and mowing in the summer months.

The portion of Act 51 funding MCRC received for Marquette Township’s local roads, was $122,370, according to the report.

Iwanicki said the costs for 2016 maintenance for Marquette Township local road system was $184,630 during the summer and $111,136 during the winter months.

The MCRC does not receive any property tax revenue, nor is it funded by Marquette County in any way, Iwanicki said. He said the MCRC board relies on the townships for input on any policy changes.

“The road commission is not making decisions in a vacuum,” Iwanicki said. “It is a balance, and our board understands why Marquette Township wants to meet board to board. They the (MCRC board) have a legitimate concern because that is not the best thing to do in regards to the other 18 townships.”

Marquette Township Manager Randy Girard said a conversation between the Marquette Township Board and the Marquette County Road Commission is in the best interest of both parties given the taxpayers’ investment in roughly 34 miles of roadway in the township, although it is not the township’s intent to request special treatment.

“Would it be unreasonable to take the position of addressing the county board, and letting them know that in the last three years we have reconstructed all of the roads in Marquette Township, we have a millage for the next 12 years to pay for those roads? We understand that they’ve got 19 townships to deal with and some of them are quite remote, but we are probably — if not the most traveled, in the top three. We are not trying to single anything out, but we do have some needs,” Girard said. “An average of 32,000 to 36,000 cars a day got through the U.S. 41 corridor. They get off of that corridor onto township roads. We have a lot of road miles being driven in the township and I think it’s worth some consideration.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.