Poor road con­di­tions in Hillsdale. Katherine Scheu | Col­legian


In south-central Michigan, where roads and broadband remain a top pri­ority, Hillsdale is the kind of city Pres­ident Donald Trump’s infra­structure investment plan is meant to benefit.

Trump’s plan intends to use $200 billion in federal money to spur more than $1 trillion in local and state gov­ernment and private invest­ments to fix America’s infra­structure, according to a White House fact sheet. The plan tabs $50 billion for rural infra­structure, $20 billion for expanded loan pro­grams and private bonds, $20 billion for what Trump calls “trans­for­mative projects,” and $10 billion to the Federal Capital Revolving Fund.

“Mod­ern­izing and investing in our nation’s infra­structure is long overdue, and I’m glad Pres­ident Trump’s plan pays a great deal of attention to helping rural com­mu­nities,” Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Michigan, said in a statement. “In par­ticular, expanding broadband deployment to rural areas is important so that res­i­dents are con­nected and can enjoy greater eco­nomic pro­duc­tivity and higher quality of life.”

The Rural Infra­structure Program would allocate a bulk of the dollars to state gov­ernors, while the remaining funds would be dis­tributed through rural per­for­mance grants, a fact sheet out­lined.

Walberg echoed the plan’s shift of authority to the local and state level.

“It is also important to return more decision-making power to state and local offi­cials who are better equipped to manage resources in their com­mu­nities than Wash­ington, D.C., bureau­crats,” Walberg said.  

State Rep. Eric Leutheuser, R-Hillsdale, said Lansing is looking into pulling incre­mental funding together specif­i­cally for addi­tional road repairs this year.

“I think every well-managed state is looking for ways to accel­erate their infra­structure invest­ments, because the costs only go up over time,” Leutheuser wrote in an interview with The Col­legian.

He empha­sized the impor­tance of these part­ner­ships, ref­er­encing the way unfunded pension lia­bil­ities affect infra­structure invest­ments.

“We do need the proverbial ‘all hands on deck,’ because the need to is so great,” Leutheuser wrote. “Resources are increas­ingly ded­i­cated to social safety net pro­grams, while time marches on, leaving much of our infra­structure at or past its engi­neered lifespan.”

While around 50 percent of the city’s budget goes to payroll and ben­efits, about 83 percent of those pen­sions are funded by property taxes. According to City Manager Dave Mackie, Hillsdale is in pretty good shape com­pared with some other Michigan com­mu­nities.

For Hillsdale, the biggest imped­iment to infra­structure boils down to cost, and Mackie said the city is hopeful the federal money makes its way down to the local level as Hillsdale qual­ifies for block grants that focus on com­mu­nities with a low-to-mod­erate income pop­u­lation.

“If Trump’s infra­structure plan makes its way down to the local level, we’ll def­i­nitely look to take advantage of that funding to do more in the com­munity,” Mackie said.

In Hillsdale, 31 percent of res­i­dents fall under the federal government’s poverty line, according to Mackie. This is not some­thing to tout, Mackie said. On the other hand, it qual­ifies Hillsdale for federal and state resources because it means that the city has lower taxable values on prop­erties and homes and is not col­lecting as much on its taxbase without needing assistive grants.

For example, the city is working with the Board of Public Util­ities to fix Garden, Vine, Mead, Rippon, and Spring streets. The project, slated to begin in April, should costs $2.8 million, and Mackie said, wouldn’t have been fea­sible if the city didn’t receive a $1.9 million Com­munity Devel­opment Block grant issued by the federal gov­ernment and admin­is­tered by the state gov­ernment.

Since the bids were higher than antic­i­pated, the council is still in the financing stage but intends to com­plete the project, he said.

Addi­tionally, the city council found two sources of revenue that could be allo­cated to just road projects, including the pay­ments in lieu of taxes from the BPU. The board will also con­tribute their ser­vices: For water and sewer projects, the group would replace water and sewer mains or elec­trical lines, while the city would pay for side­walks and stormwater drains.

Although roads remain the biggest pri­ority, broadband is getting attention, too. Mackie said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s statewide goal is to promote high-speed internet, giving the state a com­pet­itive advantage in both rural and urban areas.

According to Mackie, the city is forming a fiber broadband com­mittee to determine how best to cap­i­talize on existing broadband and how to extend it to res­i­dents and busi­nesses. The existing broadband forms a ring around a certain portion of downtown and some res­i­dential areas, con­necting the county offices, Hillsdale College, and some local busi­nesses, but is under­uti­lized.

Since it’s tough to justify putting fiber in a smaller com­munity because the cus­tomer base can’t support it, Leutheuser said in the meantime, other bar­riers to expansion need attention, such as com­peting interests, pri­or­ities, and reg­u­la­tions.

Ulti­mately, Trump’s plan aims to spur investment rather than use federal money to fund the bulk of projects. Cities such as Hillsdale will have access to block grants, but will need to rely more on financing them­selves and seeking state and private investment.

“We’re being very aggressive in setting aside monies now,” Mackie said, “monies that weren’t set aside in the past that are ded­i­cated specif­i­cally to road repair. I feel over the next five to 10 years, the city will be making strides.”