County Divided on Transit Issues as HB 5550 Dies in Legislature

County Divided on Transit Issues as HB 5550 Dies in Legislature

(Crystal A. Proxmire, March 4, 2020) Waterford, MI – Officials from various communities in northern and western Oakland County gathered Tuesday for a press conference to show solidarity against House Bill 5550, which subsequently was tabled.

The bill would have allowed any county to opt out of a regional transit proposal that would have included Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne Counties. It was anticipated that Macomb would be opting out, which could have made it easier for the remaining counties to collaborate on a plan to bring to the public for a vote.

Without legislation that would allow for an opt-out, it’s likely that a proposal to fund transit throughout SE Michigan will not make it to the ballot in 2020 as it would require all the counties to agree to place it, and Macomb officials have already made clear their desire not to be part of the plan.

For residents in Oakland County, the fondness for public transit depends largely on where people live. Voters in northern and western Oakland County are not serviced by the bus lines that are active in SE Oakland County and surrounding areas of Macomb and Wayne Counties.  Those areas without service also tend to be the ones who vote against paying for it.

Rocky Raczkowski, Chair of the Oakland County Republicans, held a press conference Tuesday of over 20 officials who opposed the legislation,  mainly Township Supervisors and County Commissioners.  Among them were Rose Township Supervisor Dianne Scheib-Snider and Waterford  Township Trustee Karen Joliat, who both looked at the issue from the economic standpoint of their residents.

“Three mills works out to $6.6 million dollars per year just from residents in Waterford,” she said. “That’s over $120 million dollars over 20 years just from Waterford taxpayers alone.”

Rose Township Supervisor Scheib-Snider said that Rose Township residents pay 1 mil for township taxes and 2 mils for public safety.  “This is the amount of money we run our whole township with,” she said.  “How can they expect to just double taxes on our residents, for something that doesn’t even come anywhere near us?”

From Rose Township Hall to the nearest bus stop it is 19.5 miles, or a 30 minute drive.

A map provided at the press conference shows in gray the communities where local bodies voted to oppose either bill 5550 or the similar related transit bill that preceded it.  Much of the county’s land mass falls in these areas, but the densely populated SE corner of the county, where transit is  heavily used, the map remained white.

While the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) was formed in 2012, it hasn’t had much luck in getting a plan approved by voters. A 2016 ballot measure failed chiefly due to opposition in Macomb and Northern Oakland County. And in 2018 Macomb and Oakland county leadership would not support putting a plan on the ballot.

County  Executive Dave Coulter has been an advocate for public transit and saw it in action during his various leadership roles in Ferndale before accepting the appointment to county government’s top spot.  When asked about the opposition, he said “Improving regional transportation is not only essential to our businesses, workers, and quality of life but will boost our competitiveness with other metropolitan areas. As proposed amendments to the RTA work their way through the legislative process in Lansing, we will continue outreach efforts to all of our communities so that we are able to develop a plan that is right for Oakland County.”

He gave further reasons to support transit in a press release Wednesday morning, stating “To move forward as a region we must fix our inadequate transit system. It has economic and quality of life consequences for Oakland County and our region if we don’t better compete with other regions across the country. I’m dismayed that Republicans in the legislature fueled by false information won’t give us the tools we need to develop a plan to put before the voters. Ultimately it should be up to the voters to decide this issue. I’m committed to continuing efforts with local communities to improve mobility throughout Oakland county as we find a path forward as a region. ”

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett was part of the press conference opposing the legislation, expressing concern that the issue is not just about being for or against transit.

“None of these people are anti-transit or anti-regionalism,” Barnett said  “We’re telling people to go back to the drawing board… Explain the plan so we can become advocates.”

 

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