Data from Cobalt Community Research – a Lansing-based nonprofit organization – shows 57 percent in favor of a tax increase for roads, 18 percent opposed and 25 percent were unsure or needed more information.
Advice from roads scholar
Royal Oak currently allocates approximately $1.5 million of funding per year for its 214 miles of roadway, according to a 2013 Pavement Management Analysis report by OHM Architects, Engineers and Planners. However, according to state law, Royal Oak's first priority must be the major street system, which is made up of 68 miles of roadway, leaving the city with scarce resources for its 147 miles of local roadways.
After evaluating the overall network condition, OHM predicts that the average road condition will decrease considerably at the current investment level per year. Even doubling the investment level to $3 million per year results in a slight decrease in the average system condition, according to the report.
"Although the average system condition only slightly worsens at that funding level, the model predicts miles of roads in ‘poor’ condition will increase from 10 percent to 34 percent of the network," the report states.
City Manger Don Johnson told city officials at the strategic planning session held on Jan 18 that it's clear from the OHM report and the results of the citizen survey that roads should be a top priority for Royal Oak right now.
One for the road
Johnson is convinced that the only to fix roads is for the city to address the problem itself.
"I don't expect we're going to get the state to doing anything significant," Johnson said. "Most cities do contribute some local resources to streets. We don't."
The city doesn't have any local tax revenues going to improve local streets, he said.
"Historically, Royal Oak has had an extremely low tax rate," Johnson said. "And one of the ways they did that is to not put any local money into roads."
Johnson said he would like the Royal Oak City Commission to put a tax increase dedicated to maintain and reconstruct local roads on the ballot this year.
"There's a number of things that we're going to need to do and one is deciding exactly what level of roads we want and what level of millage we'd be talking about," he said.
Making the grade
The Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) system is used to evaluate the condition of road segments. The PASER system rates each road segment on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst condition, and 10 being the best condition (new pavement), according to the OHM report.
For examples of PASER ratings, see the attached photos.The analysis shows that to make a difference – to smooth out the areas where there are potholes, to patch deteriorated areas, to seal cracks and in some instances replace an entire road – would require a yearly investment of $5 million.
The current average PASER rating in Royal Oak is 4.8. A $5M investment improves the average PASER condition rating to 6.1 and maintains the percentage of the network in ‘poor’ condition at approximately 10 percent, according to the analysis.
What the city needs to do is look at every road and determine what the best improvement is for the buck is, City Engineer Matt Callahan said.
"As a taxpayer, I think I am going to want to sure that I am going to get some kind of benefit and that my street is going to be touched," said Mayor Jim Ellison.
The city manager also recommended putting out information about alternatives to a tax increase.
"The only other options that I see that you can do instead of a millage is bonds issued on individual projects but who is going to support just the one project?" Johnson said. "Or you could adopt a policy of special assessing roads and be aggressive with it and not require that it be initiated by the residents."
Johnson said Royal Oak could also levy a city income tax. Whatever the city decides, all residents need to be invested, Johnson said.
"If we pass a millage, people will assume roads are going to get better and if they don't that's going to be an issue," said Commissioner Mike Fournier.