Grand Rapids considers tax increase for roads shortfall


Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell says public-private partnerships such as Downtown Market define the city. Photo via

Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell focused on five capital-intensive demands in his State of the City address Saturday, “any one of which could sink us, and none of which could be accomplished without additional resources.”

The “mother” of them all, he said, is the streets and sidewalks that are in disrepair.

Roads shortfall

Noting that fractured, pot-holed streets affect business and increase costs of driving in the city, plus drive up public transportation costs, Heartwell said $22 million is needed each year to bring city streets to an “acceptable condition.”

The city’s investment lately is $3.4 million a year, matched with another $3 million in transportation grants.

The Michigan gas tax revenues — the city’s major source for street-repair funds — “have fallen precipitously over the past decade and are now just enough to match grants,” said Heartwell.

Although there are business and government sectors — including Gov. Rick Snyder — who want to increase the gas tax, the “problem is finding a state legislative solution that will be accepted by both parties.”

In the legislature, he said, “ideology trumps practicality and, ultimately, nothing gets done.”

“In the meantime, we have to take matters into our own hands,” Heartwell said.

The City Commission “began the process last week to put a proposal on the ballot in May to extend the two-tenths of one percent income tax . . . to transform our streets, neighborhoods and business districts.”

A city income tax increase — as yet undetermined — “won’t give us everything we need,” said Heartwell, “but it will provide relief and create real progress until the legislature decides that it is important to our state to have good highways, roads and streets.”

Cutting costs

Heartwell also noted that the city workforce is 70 percent of the size it was 10 years ago, and every city employee has taken concessions in total compensation equal to 12.5 percent.

Operation costs have also been reduced by another 10 percent, he said.

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