Ionia County board ends county road commission

Ionia County

IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Five months after celebrating its centennial, the Ionia County Board of Commissioners voted to dissolve the Ionia County Road Commission. 

On Monday, commissioners voted 5-1 to absorb the road commission and create the Ionia County Road Department through the county.

“It was pretty obvious from the resolution it was to get me out of here,” Ionia County Road Commission Managing Director Dorothy Pohl told News 8 Wednesday. 

The decision means Pohl’s 27 years with the county will end when her contract runs out at the end of the year. For now, she’s helping transition the road commission into a county department.

Board Chairman David Hodges says the decision came down to helping the road commission’s pension fund. 

“Dorothy’s plan, to put it simply, is to take large sections of the road funding each year and put it into the pension over the next 15 years,” Hodges told News 8. 

He said putting taxpayer money toward the fund won’t solve it.

“Their pension, we found out, was somewhere around $14 million underfunded,” Hodges explained. “Their unfunded medical portion of that is somewhere around $12 million, so now we’re talking $26 million underfunded.” 

Pohl wanted to dedicate between $1.3 to $2.3 million in road funding each year to get the pension fund back on track in the next decade. The operating budget was roughly $13 million for the road commission, according to Hodges.

“For the last 20 years, we’ve been practically bankrupt and not knowing how we were going to pay for salt or buy trucks, but we were fine then,” Pohl explained.

She added that passing the 2018 road millage was a major win in funding.

“We’re doing really well. Everyone here’s working together. We’re getting more done than we ever did and we celebrated our 100-year anniversary … and then, all of a sudden, we’re not good enough,” Pohl said.

The new road department will consist of a 12-person advisory board. The board is also hiring for a new managing director and looking at potentially having an engineer fill the role.

“That could potentially be a savings. I think the day-to-day aspects for the employees will really be unnoticed. The biggest thing will be the name,” Hodges said. 

A managing director and engineer were separate positions under the road commission.

“Paul [Spitzley] is our engineer. Paul has been made aware and he has every right to apply for that position,” Hodges replied when asked if the current position search will mean cutting a budgeted role.

“Ultimately our board’s number one responsibility is to taxpayers and for me to allow the other plan to have gone was irresponsible to the taxpayers,” he added. “To me, they’re going to pay twice. Once they pay the taxes to pay for the funding that’s put into this pension. The second part of that, they’re going to pay for some pretty lousy roads over 15 years if we let it go that way.”

Pohl completely disagrees with the decision.

“The majority (of employees), I would say, are very concerned about what’s going to change,” she said. “I’m afraid for the people who live in this county. This is not good government. This is like running out, putting a fire out, and you don’t really know what you need to do.”

She said the first thing she worried about after the vote Monday was the road commission’s insurance. The current coverage came from a commission-exclusive insurance pool, which no longer applies to Ionia County.

“It’s in process right now. I know the legal authority happens instantly. I had to go down to sign some contract bits today, so that’s starting,” Hodges responded. 

He anticipates strong candidates will apply for the new director-engineer role.

City managers, commissioners and supervisors from around the county will make up the advisory board.

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