Royal Oak Considers Putting Tax Increase for Roads on the Ballot

City Manger Don 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.

Rating 1 | Credit: OHM
Rating 1 | Credit: OHM
When asked in a recent city-wide survey if residents would support a modest tax increase dedicated to maintain and reconstruct local roads, the response was yes.

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.

Alternative route

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.
Jack Manning January 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM
Yeah, yeah, another tax increase. It never quits. Everything is always underfunded but there seems to be a lot of money for City Council pet projects which of course does not include such mundane projects as caring for RO's roads. So let's all be civic minded which in many cases includes the brain-dead, and waddle-up and pull that voting lever for more taxes. Now what will be the next tax increase.
Royal Oaker January 25, 2014 at 01:42 PM
They show 57 percent in favor of a tax increase for roads. Who are these people? I don't know of anyone willing to do that. Why was there just $40,000 spent on a new logo if we need money for roads? Sounds like money mishandled.
Lisa Wilson January 25, 2014 at 06:51 PM
I do agree that spending $40,000 on a new logo was a little extravagant for a city that claims to be poor. I do know that putting it towards the roads equals the same as putting a penny towards buying a house, it means nothing. Speaking from the knowledge of knowing that we just priced having our driveway extended into the back yard and that was a 9 foot wide and 24 foot long stretch of concrete for $10,000. So, with that being said the $40,000 would fix 100 feet of road and one lane of it at that. If the roads do not get fixed soon I am sure that people will stop coming here due to the wear and tear on there cars to drive here, which in turn means business's lose money and when they lose money the city loses the tax revenue generated from those business. So yes, I am all for a tax to help fix our roads but, with that being said I want these business in this town to take a good chunk of a tax increase to help out the roads that keep them in business.


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