Following months of waiting for the $3 million state legislators approved for a substantial redesign and reconstruction of Sherman Boulevard in December, Muskegon Heights Mayor Kimberley Sims is hopeful the funding is finally heading to her city.
State senators on Thursday approved a supplemental budget bill, Senate Bill 150, that would award $3 million to Muskegon Heights for the project slated to repair and improve Sherman Boulevard—the city’s busiest street and one of the most traveled roads in Muskegon County. The bill now heads to the House and would ultimately have to get a stamp of approval from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before Muskegon Heights would see the funding slated to pay for roadway improvements, public utility upgrades for future business investment, lighting and landscaping along the corridor, and blight abatement in the boulevard’s commercial sections.
“We’re optimistic about the bill being passed and going through; we advocated extremely hard for it as a city,” Sims said Thursday. “Rep. [Terry] Sabo has done a great job making sure our voices have been heard. We’re really excited about the impact this will have on our community as far as beautification efforts and infrastructure concerns.”
The Senate vote and upcoming House action come after an error in the language of the original bill, a supplemental budget that lawmakers passed during their marathon lame-duck session in December, prevented Muskegon Heights from receiving the funding as expected. The state Constitution stipulates that, in order to receive money from a state supplemental bill, cities, townships and villages must be identified by population, not their name, in the legislation. In the original bill, lawmakers identified Muskegon Heights as a city with a population of 11,800 to 11,900 people—but, according to the most recent U.S. Census, it actually has a population of 10,800 to 10,900 individuals.
Had the error not been present, Sims said the project would have likely already launched by now.
“We would be in the process of beginning implementation,” Sims said. “We’re still trying to do what we can to prepare for the project.”
State. Sen. Jon Bumstead [R-Newaygo], whose district includes Muskegon Heights, voted Thursday for the Senate’s budget bill, which passed 47-37.
“The Sherman Boulevard corridor provides access to residential neighborhoods, area hospitals and other businesses, as well as an access point to some of Michigan’s most beautiful parks and natural resources,” Bumstead said in a press release. “The corridor also serves as a central access point to the beach at Lake Michigan, and I join area residents in welcoming these improvements to the community.”
Sabo [D-Muskegon], whose district too includes Muskegon Heights, is also backing the project.
“I am anxiously awaiting for it to arrive in the House for a vote, as I am in total support and working hard to ensure my fellow House members understand the importance of this project to Muskegon Heights and the surrounding area for our residents, businesses and tourists traveling this route to Lake Michigan,” Sabo said.
A vehement critic of lame-duck sessions—the period between an election and the end of lawmakers’ terms—Sabo said the bill’s language error that caused the delay in funding for Muskegon Heights is emblematic of a legislative system that needs to change. All told, lawmakers voted on more than 300 bills during the lame-duck frenzy that lasted two weeks and ended in legislators voting on a flurry of bills over 22 hours—including the $1.3 billion supplemental budget that is one of the largest in state history, and which included the Muskegon Heights error.
“It is another reason why lame-duck voting is problematic when the legislature’s professional staff is not given proper time to vet large pieces of legislation properly,” Sabo said.
This $3 million is part of the Muskegon Heights government’s larger strategy to address a myriad issues with the city’s roads, including a streets millage passed in 2017. The millage raises between $470,000 and $500,000 annually for road repair, maintenance and other road improvements throughout the city. With the funding from the millage, Muskegon Heights was able to impact 26 blocks of residential streets this past year. The city expects to do the same in 2019, former Muskegon Heights City Manager Jake Eckholm said in an interview with the Muskegon Times.
Muskegon Heights too recently landed a $250,000 state Transportation Economic Development Fund grant, which the city will use to repair and improve Park Street.