Countywide transit millage to replace current one
By Lisa Brody
The Oakland County Board of Commissioners approved placing a public transportation millage question on the November 8 ballot at their meeting on Wednesday, August 10, which, if approved, would replace the current SMART millage at a lower millage amount while providing transportation services for everyone in the county.
County commission board chair Dave Woodward (D-Royal Oak) proudly noted the passage of the millage question was approved by the board in a bipartisan vote, 13-7, with Republican commissioners Mike Gingell (R-Lake Orion) and Karen Joliat (R-Clarkston) voting with all the Democrats.
If approved by voters, funding from an Oakland County public transportation millage will support current public transportation services in Oakland County, create and extend new routes to connect local communities and increase transportation service for seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. The millage would be levied at a maximum rate of .95 mills (95 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value) for 10 years beginning in 2022 and ending in 2031. There are no opt-out provisions in this millage proposal.
Currently, communities in the county can vote to not provide SMART service for their residents and visitors. Locally, Bloomfield Hills is an opt-out community, as is Rochester, Novi, and many northern Oakland communities.
The current SMART millage, which was renewed in 2018 for four years, expires at the end of 2022. The millage rate is one mill, although with Headlee rollbacks, levies to residents have been less than the full one mill, so the new countywide millage would be a reduction for those residents who currently have SMART service.
In addition, the new millage would provide funding to replace all other locally public transit millages, according to Oakland County. The proposed millage dedicates funding of no less than $2 million for the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) for Orion Township, Oxford and Addison Township, $1 million for the Older Person’s Commission (OPC) Transportation for Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township, and $2 million for WOTA in Highland Township, Waterford Township and White Lake. The millage would also provide additional funding to expand public transportation services across the county. It is estimated that $66 million will be collected in the first year.
“This millage provides funding to replace the local millages for these operations out of the total millage,” Woodward said. “It also does funding for new service in the form of expanding new routs and increasing paratransit and microtransit in areas of the county where it does not currently exist.”
Paratransit provides services for seniors to assist them in getting to doctors' appointments, grocery stores, hair salons, and other needs.
“Senior transit matters,” Woodward said. “Getting patients to health care and workers to jobs matter. It matters that people with disabilities and those without access to other transportation can get to the places they need and want to go. This proposal is an Oakland County solution to improve transit in the county for everyone.”
Oakland County has been piloting microtransit across the county, which is an on demand service via an app or by phone, which can take someone to their destination by a vehicle, similar to a car-ride service. “There's been huge success where it's been deployed,” Woodward said. The goal is to expand it throughout the county.
He said the “third bucket” the countywide millage will assist with is with new capital – to replace fleet, allow for technology improvements with the fleet, and to make transit work better overall.
Woodward said that as part of the federal Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, Michigan is lated to receive more than $300 million for public transportation. The caveat is that there is a requirement for a local match.
“This provides funding for that,” he noted. “This is an Oakland County solution to improving transit all across the county. This moves the conversation from whether or not transit is available to how do we make transit better for everyone.”