Farmington Hills neighbors Robert Sutton and William Madrey look over documents pertaining to the local road millage ballot proposal Sept. 19 at Farmington Hills City Hall.

Farmington Hills neighbors Robert Sutton and William Madrey look over documents pertaining to the local road millage ballot proposal Sept. 19 at Farmington Hills City Hall.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


Road millage to appear on November ballot

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published September 25, 2018

 Gary Mekjian, assistant Farmington Hills city manager, speaks to the crowd that night.

Gary Mekjian, assistant Farmington Hills city manager, speaks to the crowd that night.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

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FARMINGTON HILLS — City officials don’t want Farmington Hills residents to be surprised when they see a local road millage on their ballot in November. 

Officials said they hope to transition from special assessments to a local road millage, and they are educating the public on the possible transition through informational presentations, such as a recent one Sept. 19 at City Hall.

Officials discussed the road millage and what it could mean for residents’ wallets.

“We’re here to answer any questions you have as it relates to ballot proposal and finance questions, what your taxes might be, and anything else you can throw at us tonight,” Assistant City Manager Gary Mekjian said.

The city charter currently requires SADs for local road reconstruction in neighborhoods. 

Finance Director Steve Barr said there are 1,764 parcels in active SADs, though “some have already been paid off.”

Barr said that all but 11 of the 1,764 parcels are residential properties. 

Barr said in a follow-up email that if the ballot proposal is approved, local road SADs “would no longer exist, as the funding for local roads is being transitioned to a local road millage.”

“So nobody will be paying for a local road SAD and the local road millage at the same time,” he said.

He added that if the ballot proposal is approved, “Those who live in an active local road SAD and have paid more principal than the minimum required will be issued a refund for the excess principal payments made.

“This refund will be paid to the owner of record as of around Nov. 6, 2019,” he said.

Mekjian said that the city has 243 miles of local streets, 129 miles of which are poor, 71 miles are fair, 21 miles are good, and 22 miles are gravel roads.

Per the city’s directed special assessments for road improvements policy — approved by the City Council in April 2016 — local roads are given priority to be improved based on a pavement condition rating and a number of other factors, including housing density, Department of Public Works upkeep and public interest.

Under that policy, the city is responsible for paying 20 percent of the cost of repairs, while residents living on that road pay 80 percent.

Under the proposed 2.57-mill road tax, a resident with a home that has a taxable home value of $90,000 — with a market value of $229,000 — would pay $247.50 annually, or just over $20 per month.

The millage, if approved, would be in effect in perpetuity, Barr said in an email.

If passed, the road tax would show up on residents’ summer 2019 property tax bills, and construction could start in the summer.

If the road millage doesn’t pass, it is the City Council’s discretion on what to do next, Mekjian said.

Mekjian said the city has revised the way it rates pavement conditions.

He said that when City Council members saw the poor conditions of the streets several years back, they changed the road improvements policy. 

The policy always allowed residents to petition the city to reconstruct their local streets, but now the city can impose an SAD without residents petitioning.

Mekjian said the pavement condition ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10; 10 is a brand-new road, and 2 is practically undrivable because you can’t drive the posted speed.

“The closer you get to 1, the closer to failure is,” he said.

According to the city’s website, after a Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating study performed in 2017, over 58 percent of the city’s local roads are in “poor” condition, with a PASER rating of 4 or less.  

According to the website, if the local road millage ballot proposal passes, the goal will be to improve the city’s overall average pavement condition on its local roads to a PASER rating of between 6 and 6.5 within the first 10 years.

The road millage would generate about $9.3 million in revenue, Mekjian said.

“You might ask, ‘Where did you come up with this number?’” Mekjian said to the handful of attendees. “It goes back to a pavement management plan and study that we have. We’ve measured the condition of our assets; we know the condition of our roads.”

He said that the figure is what is needed to sustain the roads in the long run.

“(In) the next several years, what do we need on an annual basis to get from point A to point B? It is about $9.3 million,” he said, adding that one cannot avoid preparing financially for things.

“Build the asset and fund the system appropriately, so over the life cycle of the road provide the right fix at the right time to maximize length of road. … You’re not going to buy a brand-new car and never get an oil change. You got to plan for appreciation and degradation.”

Last fall, the offices of the state attorney general and Gov. Rick Snyder had the ball in their court regarding what city officials could do next with the charter amendment ballot proposal — after the Attorney General’s Office rejected the charter amendment ballot language. They later approved it this past July.

Mekjian said the ballot language sent to the state Attorney General’s Office last year was designed to exempt property owners currently involved in an active special assessment district from a pending road millage until their SAD has expired.

It was rejected because the Attorney General’s Office did not like that language, Mekjian said last year, adding that it is the city’s understanding that under the state constitution, one cannot exempt taxpayers from paying a specific tax. 

Paying for roads through SADs has been in the city charter since the city’s inception, officials said, though the criteria for ranking road repair needs changed recently, which has caused contention among some residents facing assessments.

Farmington Hills Mayor Ken Massey said previously that SADs have been running anywhere from $10,000 to upwards of $19,000 per home, spread out over a period of 10 to 15 years.

Farmington Hills resident Joseph Scott attended the Sept. 19 meeting because he said that he needed to hear the full story on the road millage.

He said that he does believe in fixing the roads, but he is not sure if a road millage is the solution.

“My main concern is … private roads in Farmington Hills,” he said, adding that he lives on a private road and public money cannot be used to fix private roads.

Karen Mondora, director of public services for the city, said that there are 57 private roads in Farmington Hills.

Scott, who represents a homeowners association, said that for seven years, his neighborhood tried to get an SAD but could not.

“We wound up having to pay $13,000 a house. … Is there anything this proposal does for private roads?” he asked during the meeting.

Mekjian said that the only “solace” he can give individuals living on private streets in the community is that road fixes impact everyone. “This community rises and falls together.”

Barr said that what Scott said is “nothing unique” as it pertains to roads.

“A very small percent (of residents) have kids in the schools,” he said, adding that all residents still pay for public schools.

Independence Commons resident Thomas DeWard said in an email that the passage of the ballot proposal would benefit him financially.  

“However, there are negative aspects to the passage,” he said. “The city is attempting to shift the entire burden of financing local roads from the general fund to the owners of real and personal property, subject to tax.”

He said that the 2.57 mill tax would be added to the 2 mills approved by voters in 2014 for roads.

That 2-mill, 10-year public streets and roads millage costs the owner of a $170,000 home about $170 annually.

According to the city website, the 2014 road millage is spent only for the reconstruction of major roads, and for improved preventative maintenance on major roads and residential streets. It also allows the city to continue to contribute up to 20 percent toward the funding of residential road reconstruction SAD projects.

DeWard said that there would not be an offsetting reduction in the city operating millage, and therefore there would be more funds available for the city to expend on wages and benefits and other expenses. He said homeowners should be aware that if the proposal passes and their subdivision is chosen for removal and replacement of existing roads, there is no guarantee that the roads will be replaced in kind.  

“For instance, concrete roads may be replaced with asphalt,” DeWard said.

Upcoming road millage presentations will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 6 at City Hall, 31555 W. 11 Mile Road, and at 7 p.m. Oct. 30 at Fire Station 5, 31455 W. 11 Mile Road. 

There will be “Meeting with the Mayor” events at 7 p.m. Sept. 25 at Fire Station 2, 28225 Middlebelt Road, and at 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at Fire Station 1, 35725 W. Nine Mile Road.

For more information, call the City Manager’s Office at (248) 871-2500 or go to www.fhgov.com/localroadballotproposal.

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