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.”