Border To Border Maintenance To Improve Funding

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The popularity of the Border to Border Trail has proven a resounding success since its inception, growing in a rapid succession of starts and stops, even during the pandemic. Washtenaw County’s Parks Commission took the decision last month and early this month to provide more regular maintenance funding as the popularity of the network grows.

“When I became treasurer … I pooled the county’s money so I had the ability to invest it at better rates of return, because I was working with larger sums of money,” Washtenaw County Treasurer Catherine McClary said.

In doing this, McClary is able to generate more money than Washtenaw County would normally have through taxation, to generate the ability to pay for incidental expenses and free up public funds for more projects. The scheme that Washtenaw County approved to fund maintenance on their sections of the Border to Border trail earlier this month is just the latest step in this practice.

One thing that might not be obvious about the trail is that it really is a collaborative, regional effort, which no one authority owns. When you are walking along it one portion might belong to Washtenaw County’s Parks commission, another section might belong to Dexter, and then the next mile long stretch might be in a metro park. The result is a back and forth between different political entities with different types of authority, having to communicate over how to maintain and expand the wider network.

This funding will therefore only apply to certain sections of the non-motorized transportation network, but it will provide a template for how to fund general maintenance as the system steadily expands. The new investment will go to routine tasks like mowing the lawn, removing winter snow and resurfacing the trail in the somewhat recently acquired sections of the trail owned by Washtenaw County.

As part of the ongoing process, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approved
an additional $600,000 to the fund on March 3. One third of the money is from private donations from groups like the The Huron Waterloop Pathway Initiative, a private group that partners with local government to maintain and expand the Border to Border trail, contributed the private funds.  A third is from millage rates and a third from federal and state grants, according to McClary.

Image Credit: Bryan Mitchell, Washtenaw County Parks & recreation

Instead of taxing and spending, the county will keep the grass mowed and the trail’s surface maintained on the 8 miles or so of pathway it itself owns by taking $600,000 and putting it in the bond market, and several other financial mechanisms, to create a steady and reliable source of funding. This is in addition to the $7.2 million that was already invested by the county in the markets, which started in 2019. The County has $8,990,000 in the markets today, according to McClary. The new injection of $600,000 will be invested by Mid-May, according to the county.

This money is being folded into Washtenaw County Park Commission’s ledger. The money will be earmarked separately for the scheme from the rest of the Commission’s budget, although it will be accounted for there. It is possible this perpetual maintenance funding scheme can be enlarged as Washtenaw County expands more of the portion of the Border to Border trail that it owns over the years.

McClary said that this money will be invested only in environmentally responsible financial instruments. This essentially creates a separate bubble of funding, that will allow for the payment of regular wear and tear maintenance funding, eliminating the need to go to the voters over and over to ask for funding in millage after millage, every few years.

Image Credit: Huron Waterloop Pathways Initiative

The fact that maintenance funding of course means that how much money Washtenaw County has available for maintenance will fluctuate with the market. However, Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Maciejewski said that the law provides enough guidance to provide as safe and predictable a turn as possible. The money is being invested in accordance to Public Act 20, and Public Act 314, of Michigan State Law, which specifies how and when public officials can generate money by investing public funds in the markets.

“The idea would be it functions similar to an endowment, but it’s not an endowment,” Washtenaw County Parks Commissioner Peter Sanderson said. “The idea would be that we can draw from the interest to fund the operations. So our parks dollars [will] be able to [spent] on other projects and other activities, so we’re not overly committing our resources right now, from an operations standpoint.”

Top Image Credit: Bryant Mitchel, Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation.

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