On Nov. 3, Macomb County voters will have the chance to make history. We will be able to adopt the county charter proposal that has been developed by the Charter Commission we elected last year. Much attention has rightly been given to this document, which creates the position of county executive, cuts in half the number of county commissioners, and enacts tough ethics policies, among other things. I urge you to join me and vote in favor of the charter and help retool our county for the 21st century.
Another proposal before voters this November has received less attention but goes hand-in-hand with the reforms of the charter. The second county proposal you will see on your ballot reads: “Shall the Macomb County Board of Road Commissioners be reorganized under and in the manner provided in the Home Rule Charter of Macomb County if the Charter is adopted by the voters?”
A “yes” vote on this proposal will allow the new county executive to reorganize the Road Commission as a department of the county. Currently, it is a separate organization. I believe it is an important step to streamline government and boost accountability. As we overhaul county government, this is a necessary reform to make more efficient use of scarce taxpayer dollars.
The Road Commission, with a $120 million annual budget, is directed by three road commissioners and their administrative staff, who are responsible for 1,700 miles of road and 226 bridges. Road commissioners, who until recently received salaries of more than $34,000 plus benefits, are appointed by the County Commission to 6-year terms. It should come as no surprise that most road commissioners were former county commissioners but very few, if any, had professional experience as engineers or in road construction.
This proposal is not an indictment of any current or former personnel at the Road Commission. Indeed, I applaud anyone who is willing to put themselves forward in a capacity of public service. However, the Road Commission has grown in size over time and now duplicates many aspects of regular county government. For example, the Road Commission has its own legal department, human resources department and purchasing process, all of which exist across town in county government as well. If reorganized under the county, this repetition can be eliminated and save taxpayer money.
Streamlining government is more important now than ever. As public revenue decreases, we must do everything we can to root out waste and redundancy. We see it happening in the private sector as businesses have become leaner in order to better compete. The same is true of government. We must question every institution and justify every expense in these tough economic times. Just because we have always done something one way is no longer reason enough to continue doing so.
Road funding, collected mainly from fuel taxes and registration fees, is governed by state law which spells out exactly what it can and cannot be used for. “Act 51 money” as it is called cannot be diverted to subsidize other areas of county government. By reorganizing the Road Commission under county government, less Act 51 money would be spent on overhead and more could go into repairing our streets which so desperately need it.
Voting “yes” on this proposal would not automatically reorganize the Road Commission. It would empower the new county executive to work with the new County Commission to implement the merger. It would be up to him or her to ensure that the change is done in a thoughtful way that is respectful to the current employees as well as establishing procedures and protocols to ensure that road funding decisions are done in a fair and transparent way that considers the needs of the entire county.
I’m proud that it was my bill that the governor signed into law that made this change possible. I’m also proud that all state representatives and senators from Macomb County, both Republicans and Democrats alike, supported this change. In particular, Sen. Alan Sanborn, RRichmond Township, provided crucial support in getting it through the Senate. This bipartisan group of leaders agreed that this is an important reform measure worthy of consideration by Macomb County voters.
Voting “yes” on adopting the county charter will put a structure in place to better position our county and its communities to compete for jobs into the future. Voting “yes” on reorganization of the Road Commission will further reform county government, bring accountability and oversight to these important decisions, and ensure more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
State Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mount Clemens, represents the 31st District, which covers Mount Clemens and portions of Clinton Township and Fraser.