Oakland County voters divided over public transportation millage on November ballot

Posted at 4:49 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 17:27:56-04

(WXYZ) — Oakland County residents are divided over the upcoming November 8th ballot. One of the hot topics is the proposal that aims to enhance the county's public transportation system.

If voted in, funding from a new public transportation millage will create and extend new routes to connect local communities and increase transportation services for seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities.

So why are some voters concerned, while others are all in? Is the SMART transit system important or not? That’s what Oakland County residents will be voting for and both sides have valid points.

“I’m against it,” one said.

“I don’t even know that it exists,” said a second.

“I plan to vote for it,” from a third.

“I’m always going to be pro-public transit,” said a fourth.

The proposed transportation millage would replace the current one for SMART and also fund North Oakland Transit Authority, Western Oakland Transit Authority, and Older Persons Commission bus services.

To see where the divide is I first went to West Bloomfield Township, that’s where I met Yehezkel Aharonov, Eboni Pullins, and Cheryl Cohen.

“With gasoline being so high these days if people had an adequate public transportation system like on the east coast, they might use that more than spend more on gasoline,” Cohen says.

“More comprehensive public transport would be good for the local economy, it would be better for people’s mental health because of all the stress of driving, and this would help traffic as well, imagine all the people using public transport are fewer drivers on the road,” said Aharonov.

“No, I'm not worried, I mean we support the construction of roads I think it's part of the everyday need of our community,” says Pullins.

If voted in, the new millage would be levied at a maximum rate of .95 mills for ten years beginning in 2022. That’s 95 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value.

This means for a $300,000 home in Oakland County, a resident would pay $285 per annum.

There were a lot of folks who opposed the idea of having their taxes increased but didn’t want to comment on camera. However, in Commerce Township, I found Kelly McDonald and Joe Busamra.

“The inflation, and the cost of gas and the cost of everything going up, then adding it at this time, is just not the right time,” said Busamra.

“They’ve been talking about it for years, so they are going to raise are taxes and the money is going sit there and they will use it for something else,” says McDonald.

But the Chairman of the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, David Woodward says funding runs out by end of this year, and if not renewed then all bus services will come to a screeching halt in 2023.

“For most of Oakland County this is actually a tax decrease,” Woodward says. “The current SMART millage is about 1 mil and this is .95 mill, so it’s a little less what people are paying today.”

This map shows that, at present, 25 out of 62 Oakland County communities pay public transportation millage. Meaning if voted in these folks will pay less.

Meanwhile, the proposed 10-year millage is estimated to generate over $66 million in the first year, of which around $38 million will be used to maintain the current service and $20 million to improve the network.

“It is important to make certain we have a basic level of transit for seniors and people with disabilities who can get to health care, and grocery stores as well as people who don’t have access to a vehicle, and who need to get to work or educational opportunities,” says Woodward.

Now, this is the first time, a county-wide transit millage is on the ballot with bipartisan support.

So if you want your voice to be heard, go out and vote on November 8th.