BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY —
Grand Traverse County road officials worry the portrayal of a pay raise for administrative staff could derail a millage request to raise about $4.5 million annually to repair and improve existing roads.
Road commissioners approved 2.5 percent raises for administrators on Aug. 11, at the same time they amended their budget to reflect increased revenue.
Most of the amendment had to do with new or expanded projects paid for by state and federal agencies, but it also included $202,000 from increased state funding, a $45,000 project contribution from Garfield Township, and $100,000 it anticipated from an insurance liability policy rebate.
Jim Maitland, road board chairman, and road commission Manager Mary Gillis said a story published in the Record-Eagle made it appear the road commission suddenly found money to pay for raises.
The raises already were built into the commission's budget, as were new vehicle purchases for road commission administrators. Most of the additional revenue went into expanded road maintenance, and $109,000 was added to the fund balance.
"The biggest thing was the perception people got that we were not watching our money," Gillis said. "Our board is well aware of how much revenue is coming in because we give them a report every month."
State officials told the road commission to expect state gas tax funding to come in about 5 percent below 2009 levels. Instead, it's tracking about even with last year. Gillis said the commission could have amended its budget before August, but took an early and more conservative approach to its budget outlook, based on the effects that bond payments and large seasonal purchases such as salt have on cash flow.
The one budgetary surprise that led to the August budget amendment was an unusually large liability refund, Gillis said. The amount came to $18,000 in 2009, but the 2010 number amounted to $139,000.
Gillis said the administrative raises — her own salary increased by $2,475 to $101,475 — were akin to cost-of-living increases and have little impact on the road millage because the road commission contracts paving and reconstruction projects to private firms.
But critics continue to question the timing of the road commission raises in light of the millage request.
"I don't care how minuscule the raise is. You don't go asking for more money, then give yourselves raises," said Pat Pahl, Blair Township supervisor.
Garfield Township Supervisor Chuck Korn said he'll continue to support the millage because it's the only way to improve local roads. But he believes road officials could have handled their raises in better fashion.
"The timing just seemed very poor," Korn said.
Gordie LaPointe, a Williamsburg resident who serves on a pro-road millage committee, said he doesn't think raises for Gillis and other road officials should play a role for voters.
"I don't think giving Mary a 2.5 percent raise is going to have any significance in the whole scheme of things," La Pointe said. "Emotionally, maybe, but in reality it's insignificant."