For the first time in decades, the Hillsdale City Council might actually find a way to start paying for long-overdue local road improve­ments.

Council members are con­sid­ering a 1 percent income tax — the maximum allowed by the state — to raise money for road repair. A con­sulting firm hired by the city reported in December that Hillsdale has more than 25 miles of city streets in need of major con­struction. At more than $1 million per mile, the firm esti­mated that repairing the city’s roads would cost about $39 million. The potential tax would only raise $1 million of that.

It might cost more to leave the roads alone, though –– some council members said their dilap­i­dated state could dis­courage potential busi­nesses and res­i­dents from moving to the city.

“What are we going to do, just let the roads com­pletely dete­ri­orate?” said council member Mary Wolfram, head of eco­nomic devel­opment. “That sends a signal to everyone, res­i­dents and busi­nesses, that Hillsdale’s in a state of decline. We can’t even fix our streets — what kind of com­munity are we?”

The problem of paying for road repairs has vexed city offi­cials for decades. Though state grants and revenue-sharing pro­grams have paid for some repairs, Hillsdale hasn’t had the funds to take care of smaller local streets. This could be con­tributing to the city’s eco­nomic stag­nation, said Wolfram.

“[Vis­itors will] sense an aura of decay, because it’s not just the streets,” she said. “Once you hit a bump in the road, and you notice the streets aren’t paved, you notice, ‘Oh my gosh, there are three vacant buildings on this block,’ as opposed to, ‘There’s lots of activity and this is a growing, thriving com­munity.’”

If council votes for the tax, it will go to the ballot for Hillsdale res­i­dents to decide. They would pay the full 1 percent and com­muters who work in Hillsdale would pay 0.5 percent. Busi­nesses would also pay a 0.5 percent tax on their profit. It wouldn’t affect the unem­ployed and the elderly. However, it would be at least two years before council could begin spending the money earned from the tax on the roads.

Though there are a variety of fundraising tools –– including using a millage, raising property taxes, or trying to save more rev­enues — most council members said the income tax is the only real­istic option.

Council member Casey Sul­livan works in Jackson, one of 22 cities in Michigan that has a city income tax.

“I don’t even notice it coming out of my pay­check,” he said. “If that’s what I need to pay to have good streets, I’d pay twice that much.”