Special Assessment Districts (SADs) are a designated area where a majority of property owners agree to allow a government agency to levy a property tax in exchange for a specific service. In the case of the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC), the specific service is the improvement of public roads.
When it comes to roads, Michigan has faced a perfect storm. Funding has declined while maintenance costs have risen. This has resulted in underinvestment in our road system. In addition, Public Act 51 of 1951, the law that enacts and distributes gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, only allows the WCRC to pay for a maximum of 50 percent of improvements on road classified as “local” or subdivision roads.
The lack of adequate revenue has created an enormous debt of needed road repairs. Due to these funding constraints, WCRC has elected to spend its limited resources on primary roadways and suspend its preventative maintenance and rehabilitation activities on subdivision roads.
In order to address needed road repairs in subdivision communities, some citizens and business owners have turned to Public Act 246 of 1931, which is administered by the WCRC, and Public Act 188 of 1954, which is administered by the township. These acts allow property owners along public roads to file a petition seeking improvements to the road through a SAD.
With a SAD, WCRC agrees to front the cost of road improvements with an agreement from the property owners to repay the cost of the improvement over a period of years. Funding is typically front-loaded by a public bond sale using the full faith and credit of the township. Repayments of the bonds occur through property owner’s winter tax bills over a period of years (usually 10).
For your street to be considered for a special assessment district road improvement project through WCRC, it must meet the following minimum requirements:
- It must be a public road; private roads are not eligible.
- It must be outside a corporate city or village limits (WCRC does not have jurisdiction over residential streets within incorporated cities and villages).
- At least 75% of the property owners along the road must be subdivided into parcels having road frontage of 300 feet or less in width. There can also be no fewer than one building for every 300 feet of road frontage.
- Owners of properties representing more than 51 percent of the linear frontage along the road must support the SAD Project.
WCRC has adopted a procedure to help property owners understand the SAD process before submitting a formal petition. This process can be obtained by contacting the Engineering Department at (734) 761-1500.
WCRC will initiate meetings with interested property owners once a valid petition that meets the requirements of P.A. 246 is submitted. All property owners in a proposed district are notified of the planned improvements, both in writing and through a public meeting.
Many township residents believe that their property taxes fund a majority of WCRC’s road work, but that is not true. The property tax homeowners pay is used for local and county governmental units and schools, not for roads. While local millages have imposed a small property tax to improve roads, a majority of WCRC’s revenue comes at the state and federal levels, predominately from taxes on fuel and vehicle registration fees (called the Michigan Transportation Fund [MTF]). MTF revenue was never intended to fund 100% of local road improvements. To learn more about how road funding works, visit our FAQ.
WCRC is responsible for over 1,649 miles of public roads. Of these miles, over 1,050 miles are categorized as local roads. Local roads are not eligible for federal funding and are most frequently funded with state revenue from the Michigan Transportation Fund (MTF). In addition, Act 51 restricts the amount that the WCRC may contribute to a local road improvement to no more than 50%.
A majority of the state funds that WCRC receives for local roads is spent on winter maintenance operations. The remaining funds are spent on other routine maintenance activities on primary roads such as pothole patching, road grading, pavement markings, weed and brush removal, sign replacement, drainage and other activities. As a result, WCRC does not have the funding necessary to meet all the needs on local subdivision roads. WCRC routinely spends more on local roads than it receives from the MTF.