Street funding to be on city’s agenda


Where to find $22 million a year for the foreseeable future will be a taxing point of discussion when Grand Rapids city commissioners hold their inaugural meeting of the New Year next week.

That annual total is what the Sustainable Streets Task Force told commissioners was needed to maintain 70 percent of the city’s streets, sidewalks and public rights-of-way in good or fair condition.

As of today, only 8 percent of the 588 miles of streets are in good condition. Sixty percent are in poor shape. The task force also reported that 87 percent will be in poor condition by 2019 without any new investment.

“We have bad streets now and they’ll only get worse without an investment,” read the report.

The task force, which consisted of 29 members from a variety of organizations, not only laid out the problems but also recommended a solution for solving the funding puzzle. Four funding sources are involved in the mix, and securing those at the recommended amounts would give the city a start to repair and maintain the streets and sidewalks each year.

The task force suggested that roughly $3.4 million would be available from the city’s share of the state’s gasoline and diesel tax revenue, and another $3 million might be captured from grants. The group felt $6 million could come out of Lansing and some could come from local sources.

One of those local sources is the city’s temporary income tax hike voters approved in 2010 that raised the tax from 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent for residents, and from 0.65 percent to 0.75 percent for non-residents who work in the city.

The increase gave the city about $7.5 million in additional revenue then, and City Manager Greg Sundstrom said the tally this year will be closer to $10 million, as the economy has improved.

However, voters approved the increase for two reasons. One, it was a five-year hike and would sunset on June 30, 2015. Two, the higher revenue would go toward maintaining staff on the city’s police and fire departments, not for street repair.

The task force has suggested putting a ballot measure before voters in May asking them to extend the current tax rate for 15 years. If approved, the group said a portion of those tax dollars should be dedicated to street repair and maintenance for those years.

“They recommended that 0.2 percent of resident income tax and 0.1 percent of the 0.75 percent of the non-resident income tax be dedicated to streets and sidewalks,” Sundstrom said in an e-mail to the Business Journal.

If voters do agree to a tax extension, the city would take over the duty of repairing and maintaining residential sidewalks. Property owners currently have that responsibility.

The task force also said the city needs to come up with a long-term solution. The group said the residents it spoke with were ready to invest in their streets and were willing to do so sooner rather than later.

“We will take your recommendations seriously,” said Mayor George Heartwell 

Heartwell added the topic would be discussed at the commission meeting Jan. 7. That inaugural 2014 meeting will be the first for new 3rdWard Commissioner Senita Lenear, who defeated two opponents for the seat in the August primary election. Lenear replaces James White on the board. White decided not to seek another term.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s an all-star team,” said White of the city’s management and staff at his last meeting.

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