Trail Repairs Delayed, Bicyclists Question Proposed Use of Millage Funds
Above: One of the signs along the Northern Tier Trail promising repairs soon.
While East Lansing is working to get enough funding in place to finally make repairs to its trails system, local bicycle advocates are questioning what they say is "diversion" of funds from trails to parks by Ingham County.
In November of 2014, Ingham County voters approved a new 0.5 mill for parks and trails improvements. The millage will raise about $3.5 million each year through 2020. The County is deciding which projects receive these funds, and various municipalities are vying for available pieces of the pie.
Meanwhile, a number of trail users have expressed frustration to ELi about seeing signs like the one shown above all over the county—“Future site of a trail rehabilitation project funded by the Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage”—while not seeing much actual trail improvements happening with their tax dollars.
East Lansing repairs delayed, costing more than expected:
Last year, East Lansing asked the County for about $1.1 million from the millage to make repairs to City trails and to replace and renovate a total of six pedestrian bridges. The County approved that request, but when the project was bid out following the approval, bids came in at $1.5 million and up.
According to Tim McCaffrey, Director of Parks & Recreation for East Lansing, the project turned out to be more expensive because costs were underestimated for some pedestrian bridge painting and repairs, “additional deterioration has taken place along the Northern Tier Trail since the estimate of probable cost was developed 2 years ago,” various culverts along that trail now need replacement, and “fencing along the trail was found to be in poor condition” and not up to safety standards.
After getting bids too high to carry out the project the County had funded from the millage, City staff reworked plans to try to find cost-savings and sent the new plans back out for bids. Under the revised plan, the low bid came from Davis Construction of Lansing, at about $1.3 million. City staff has now made another request to the County to make up the funding gap.
City Council this week approved a contract with Davis Construction contingent on the additional funds coming through from the County. The work would include resurfacing of the Northern Tier Trail and repairing or replacing six pedestrian bridges along the trail. Work would now also include some safety fencing and replacement of culverts.
East Lansing’s additional funding request had been scheduled to be considered for final approval by the County Board of Commissioners next Tuesday, August 22, but now that’s been put off, possibly until October, as the request goes back for review to the Ingham County Parks Commission and the County Services Committee.
According to McCaffrey, “Although it is disappointing to have the process slow down this period of time, it is very understandable as this is one of if not the first requests for additional funding after a fund award has been made by the County using the Trails and Parks Millage funds. So, since this is precedent-setting, I'm certain the County wants to establish a process/procedure that they can follow in the future.”
There’s no guarantee the County will come through with the additional funds for East Lansing.
Bicycle advocates upset about possible “diversion” of funds to Lake Lansing Park:
Meanwhile, the Tri-County Bicycle Association (TCBA) is questioning plans at the County-level for using about a third of the 2018 millage funds for capital improvements to Lake Lansing Park. The 2018 County Parks Budget Request shows a plan to use about $1.3 million from the millage for work on the Lake Lansing Park band shell roof, concession stand, restrooms, and bathhouse.
Michael Unsworth, Chair of the TCBA Advocacy Committee, says TCBA “is strongly opposed to this diversion of funds from the Millage. It violates both the spirit and letter of the Millage language.”
Unsworth says voters passed the millage with the understanding funds would be used, as the ballot language indicated, for “the creation and maintenance of a system of recreational trails and adjacent parks trails system.”
“To spend almost one-third of the 2018 millage fund on non-trail projects is a betrayal of trust by the County Parks Commission,” Unsworth says in a statement on the matter, indicating additional concern that in future years funds may be similarly “diverted” from trails to parks.
Teri Banas, Meridian-area Ingham County Commissioner and liaison to the Parks Commission, sees the matter differently, however. While Banas praises TCBA for “excellent advocacy” and regular engagement with local government, she says that, while people often refer to the millage as “the trails millage,” “it clearly refers to county trails and parks. That’s how it was put before voters. And that’s what was overwhelmingly approved by voters.”
Banas points to plans to create ”the MSU-to-Lake Lansing Connector Trail,” which will extend the River Trail east of MSU and ultimately connect to bike lanes and bike trails that will go all the way to Lake Lansing Park. If completed, it will be possible to bike on the trail from Lake Lansing Park to Old Town in Lansing. Banas indicates that funding for this would come partly from Meridian Township and the state’s DNR Trust Fund.
Banas says that “the bulk of the nearly $10.3 million [collected through the millage so far] has been used for trails in local communities, trail signage and for consulting fees. The consultants we hired created the inventory of all existing trails and their conditions across the county in order to assess needed repairs and renovation work” in the County. (See breakdown.)
Tim Morgan, Director of Ingham County Parks, tells ELi that the Lake Lansing Park budget request “is still in the process of being decided upon by the Controller’s office and Board of Commissioners. That decision has not been made yet.”
Morgan says, “The Controller Recommended Budget will be officially unveiled to commissioners at a Board Leadership meeting” this evening, Thursday, August 17, at 5:30 p.m. at the Human Services Building in Lansing.
Disclosures: Michael Unsworth is a donor to ELi and Jessy Gregg, one of our Government reporters, serves on the Ingham County Parks Commission.