When the state and federal governments dole out road money, they usually allocate it through individual rural task forces, which in Grand Traverse County is the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study, or TC-TALUS.
When the Grand Traverse area decided to launch a comprehensive transportation and land use study dubbed the Grand Vision, TC-TALUS was the fiscal oversight agency for a local committee that had access to $3.3 million in federal funds administered by the Michigan Department of Transportation.
But on Thursday the Grand Traverse County Road Commission decided that the roughly $20,000 a year it pays in dues to TC-TALUS is too much; the Road Commission board voted 4-1 to stop paying its share.
What that may mean to TC-TALUS is unclear. What that means to county taxpayers is that the road board has decided to pull its support from a regional planning agency that helps the county and area townships secure road money and plan for the future.
All to save $20,000. That's about what it has cost the commission for per-diem charges — money paid commissioners to attend meetings — and base salary for two commissioners for a year, not including the taxpayer-funded health insurance and a pension they also get.
So which is worth more?
Former County Commissioner Larry Fleis said the road board has paid TC-TALUS nearly $600,000 over the past 17 years and asked what the county has gotten for its money. That ignores planning and coordinating work the county didn't have to do.
Road Commissioner Marc McKellar admitted TC-TALUS has provided valuable services to the community in the past, but said the road commission was paying too much and other TC-TALUS members too little. (His claim that the county's $20,000 in dues was the "lion's share" of TC-TALUS' $90,000 annual budget was, at best, an exaggeration.)
If this is really a discussion about how much the county pays compared to other entities — the Michigan Department of Transportation pays more — then why didn't the board follow Road Commissioner John Nelson's suggestion to talk to TC-TALUS first?
Nelson also argued that TC-TALUS has provided planning services that which would have cost far more from a contracted planner. So much for saving $20,000.
This is typical of the way the Road Commission has conducted business lately — on the fly with little public input and contrary to the way just about everyone but a few board members think the agency should be conducting business.
It can't go on.
Meeting agenda issue not so hard after all
So somebody knew what was on the agenda Thursday. Just not the taxpaying public.
After declaring this month they would no longer send out agendas for future meetings to the public, Grand Traverse County Road Commissioners reversed themselves Thursday and lifted the agenda ban.
But not until after a lively discussion about pulling dues from the Traverse City Area Transportation and Land Use Study that included comments from County Commissioner Christine Maxbauer, former Commissioner Larry Fleis and some TC-TALUS supporters — who all knew, obviously, that the TC-TALUS issue was going to be discussed.
In the end, then, only people tipped to what was going to be discussed had a chance to attend the meeting and voice an opinion.
The board claimed the whole agenda dustup was simply a policy issue that had to be resolved; anyone who believes that may also be willing to buy a bridge from the county.
Road Commissioners Dave Taylor and Marc McKellar said they wanted to make sure board members saw agendas before members of the public had that information; how that translates to refusing to tell anyone outside the clubhouse what was going to be discussed is a mystery.
Now, commissioners will get their agendas on Friday and everyone else on Monday. That wasn't so hard.