County-Wide Transit Millage to Appear on Nov. 8 Ballot
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 10, 2022)
Oakland County, MI – The Oakland County Board of Commissioners voted Wednesday to place a countywide transit millage on the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot.
Should Oakland County voters approve the .95 mills for Oakland County public transportation, it will provide transportation options through SMART, the North Oakland Transportation Authority, the West Oakland Transportation Authority, and the Older Persons Commission. The millage will also provide new paratransit coverage, new micro transit areas, routes to high-demand areas, and service improvements on existing routes.
County Executive David Coulter released a statement saying “I fully support the transit proposal approved in a bipartisan vote by the Oakland County Board of Commissioners and look forward to talking to residents throughout the county and urging its passage in the coming weeks because this is an opportunity to begin solving a vital economic and quality of life issue that has held our region back for decades.
“Reliable, efficient, and affordable public transportation is a critical asset for the residents and businesses of Oakland County. This proposal is a positive step toward building and expanding such a transit system across Oakland County. This solution is essential for workers trying to get to jobs and businesses that are facing a serious shortages of employees. It is also critical that our older residents have full access to on-demand services throughout the county.”
The .95 mil property tax will keep and maintain current public transit service in place across Oakland County. It will improve and expand transit by creating and extending routes and expanding rural transit to improve mobility across all of Oakland County. And it will fund capital improvements and seize new opportunities to match federal, state, and other funding opportunities because of the recently adopted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The proposal passed with a vote of 13-7.
Public Comment on the matter included speakers who opposed putting the millage on the ballot, many of whom were opposed to the idea of property owners paying for a system they won’t personally use, and those with concerns over any tax increase. State Senator Ruth Johnson, who represents Groveland Township and Holly, said that in her rural, agricultural communities there would be no need for transportation services above what is currently done for seniors and those with disabilities, and she shunned the idea of raising taxes, saying “There’s nothing worse than property taxes. They’re regressive. They’re punitive. They hurt people.”
City and Township Officials from several northern Oakland County Communities were present to speak against the millage going on the ballot. Wixom Councilmember Robert Smiley was among them, stating that Wixom City Council had passed a resolution the evening before against the millage. Rose Township Supervisor Scheib-Snider said that .95 mils could be better spent on internet service or policing.
County Commissioner Bob Hoffman of Highland attempted to amend the language to allow communities to opt-out, which was denied because Corporation Council deemed it to be contrary to state law.
Several people spoke in favor of the millage as well, including Royal Oak Councilperson Brandon Kolo who offered up transit as a solution to helping businesses find the workers they need. County Commissioner Gwen Markham of Novi spoke of watching workers at the mall and other retail areas having to get off the bus in the next town and have to walk two miles or more in any weather just to make it to work.
Highland Township Supervisor Rick Hammil also serves on the board of West Oakland Transportation Authority (WOTA), one of the agencies that would have resources to expand if the millage passes. “WOTA’s taken the stance that they’re more than willing to stand up and take responsibility to expand their systems into the communities in north Oakland County that don’t have transportation right now,” Hammil said. “I’m not jumping up and down about how much money this costs. But the one thing that our group did was anticipate something like this might happen. Instead of sitting back and waiting for this to happen, and excuse my terminology bitch about it, we decided to be up front and face it, and partner to it and make sure that when it happens, it happens in a way that everybody benefits from it. We’re going to make sure we’re a party to that. What happens happens… If it wins we have to live with it, but we have a way to make it work.”
Commissioner Mike Gingel urged fellow Republicans to think realistically about the likelihood of the millage passing and to be part of conversations about how to make the system work. He also compared this plan to previous plans, saying this one is better. He voted in favor of putting the item on the ballot for the public to decide, stating that he anticipated it would likely pass.
The agenda packet for the meeting gives the language of the proposal, and the full meeting can be viewed online as well. Voters will be able to decide in the Nov. 8, 2022 election.