Grand Traverse County commissioners voted 4-2 on Wednesday to approve major pay raises for the county’s road commissioners, hikes that represented a 40-45% raise for the five county-appointed council members . The vote was accompanied by an in-depth discussion of Grand Traverse County Road Commission (GTCRC) policies and plans – including an update that Keystone Road should open to two-way traffic near seven weeks ahead of the scheduled August 8 date – as well as a careful review of the GTCRC’s Community Engagement and Road Repair Prioritization Process.
After recently completing a salary study, the GTCRC asked to increase the Chairman of the Board’s salary from $6,500 to $9,000, the Vice Chairman’s salary from $6,000 to $8,500 and the salaries of other board members from $5,500 to $8,000. County commissioners agreed to increases requested by the GTCRC on Wednesday after the proposal was removed from the consent timeline in June. Commissioners have tabled the agenda item until July so that RCWG staff and commissioners can come and answer questions about the proposal and general operations.
While County Commissioners agreed in June that the GTCRC “plays a very important role”, in the words of Commissioner Betsy Coffia, they expressed concern about complaints shared by the public and local township supervisors about the lack of responsiveness and collaboration of the GTCRC in handling road projects and repairs. . Several commissioners said voters told them they had called the GTCRC with road issues, only to be told to speak to their local township representatives, and had no recourse when they objected to a decision of the GTCRC or had difficulty trying to work with the staff or the road. commissioners.
Coffia pointed out that GTCRC members are appointed, not elected, for six-year terms and control their own budget, meaning they often operate autonomously without voter oversight. County commissioners serve as the primary accountability mechanism for the GTCRC through which they appoint or remove the board of directors, as well as through votes on things such as salary increases. Coffia said she believes any taxpayer-funded wage increase should be commensurate with residents’ level of satisfaction and worries about a “constant drumbeat of voter concerns” about the GTCRC.
GTCRC Director Brad Kluczynski attempted to address those concerns during a presentation Wednesday, addressing topics including the process for prioritizing road repairs, tree and brush clearing, and community engagement. Kluczynski reminded the commissioners that the GTCRC receives about $13 million a year from the state through vehicle registration and fuel tax revenue, and an additional $5 million through local mileage that is dedicated exclusively to road maintenance. The state requires road commissions to designate roads as “major” or “local” roads; only one-third of the county’s total road network can be designated as primary. Road commissions must have at least 85% of their major roads deemed to be in good or good condition before they can focus on resurfacing or rebuilding local roads, Kluczynski explained, which can often prompt complaints from the public. residents who do not understand why local roads are not. a higher priority for repairs.
The good news, according to Kluczynski, is that 90% of the GTCRC’s roughly 290 miles of primary roads will be in good or fair condition by the end of 2022, allowing staff to shift gears and start focusing on local roads. The GTCRC has always requested a 75% match from townships for local road improvement projects, which can be funded from the township’s general fund or a Special Assessment District (SAD). Both of these funding options can spark complaints when expensive projects come up and community members want to see the GTCRC take a bigger cut of the tab, with road commissioners citing Bluff Road on the Old Mission Peninsula as an example. of the impasse that may ensue.
Kluczynski said that with major roads in good condition, the GTCRC has a new plan in which it will support 120 miles of local roads for repairs with no township matching required, covering reconstruction/resurfacing and maintenance costs. preventative thereafter. He cited Barney Road as an example of a road – designated local but considered primary by residents because of its role as an important connector – that will be repaired in the coming years. Even with GTCRC taking those 120 miles, Kluczynski said there would still be around 600 miles of local roads that can only be rebuilt with local matches. However, he said the GTCRC is still providing maintenance/upkeep, with staff responding to around 150 service requests per month. In response to questions from the commission about how the GTCRC handles complaints or service requests, Kluczynski said the department has a current response time of less than 10 days to deploy personnel to the field and will deploy a citizen reporting tool next month that will allow residents to report concerns. – such as potholes, washouts or downed trees – and escalate these complaints directly to the staff responsible for them.
Kluczynski and highway commissioners argued Wednesday that criticism of the GTCRC often stems from misunderstandings about state or federal funding, operations or requirements. For example, Kluczynski said the GTCRC receives many speeding complaints on various roads, but has no control over speed limits (these are set by the Michigan State Police). Residents often criticize tree and brush clearing projects, but the trees cast shadows on the asphalt – preventing it from drying out and allowing water to collect – which can reduce the life of a road, in addition to the GTCRC’s liability when drivers crash into trees too close to the road, Kluczynski said. He also pointed to several positive recent trends within the department, including high employee retention, Grand Traverse County ranked eighth out of 83 Michigan counties for major road condition, and projects finishing ahead of schedule. This includes the Keystone Road project, with the Elmer team weeks ahead of the completion of two roundabouts on Cass and River roads and aiming for an opening date of early August 8 for traffic in both sense instead of late September.
Following Kluczynski’s presentation, County Commissioners voted 4-2 to approve increases to the GTCRC Board of Directors, with Chairman Rob Hentschel and Commissioners Penny Morris, Brad Jewett and Ron Clous in support and Coffia and the commissioner Bryce Hundley opposed. Commissioner Darryl Nelson was absent. Coffia said while she could afford a cost-of-living increase, a 40-45% pay rise was too high without seeing “an improvement in handling taxpayer concerns”. However, other commissioners defended the wage hike, with Jewett saying it was easy to skew the percentages when wages were already at relatively low levels. Hentschel pointed out that the increases put Grand Traverse County in the middle range of salary ranges compared to other road commissions.
“They’re not the highest paid, they’re not the lowest paid,” he said, adding that the raises seemed appropriate given inflation and recent salary increases extended to GTCRC staff. He added that accountability exists for the GTCRC board both through the courts – residents can take legal action to challenge the board’s decisions – and through county commissioners. Highlighting the recent removal of two board members from the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority, Hentschel said commissioners still have the ability to remove GTCRC board members if commissioners believe they are not “were not doing their job”.
Photo Credit: Grand Traverse County Highways Commission