By BOB OLIVER
Wayne County voters taking part in the Aug. 5 primary will be deciding whether to approve a measure from county transit authority renewing and increasing an existing millage.
The issue, which also will be on ballots in Oakland and Macomb counties, concerns the existing millage of 0.59 mills on all taxable property in the WCTA area that is set to expire later this year.
The proposal would increase the levied tax to 1 mill and extend collection through the end of 2017.
The increase could bring in nearly $17.1 million to the WCTA in the first year alone that would go toward supporting the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation, which provides a public transportation system for the elderly, handicapped and general public in Wayne County.
SMART General Manager John C. Hertel said that due to declining property values, SMART has lost nearly $50 million in revenue since 2008.
He said SMART has made many adjustments to combat the lost funding, including raising fares, cutting positions and reducing pay and benefits to employees and administrators but that it is still in a dire financial position.
“We can’t cut anymore,” Hertel said. “It’s also difficult because we serve the largest population out of the 10 transit systems in the state and we have 25 percent of the tax levy. Cities like Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids levy 2 mills for the service.”
In addition to the lost revenue, 80 percent of SMART’s fleet is in need of replacement, he said. Many buses have more than 500,000 miles on them, which exceeds the Federal Transit Administrations useful life guidelines for fleet buses, and the group needs the extra funds from the millage to continue operations.
“We have some buses with over 800,000 miles,” Hertel said. “We will need to replace all of our large thoroughfare buses within the next four years.”
Hertel said that without the millage SMART would be forced to close it’s doors.
“Without the millage we will be put in a position where we would be in deficit spending, which we are not allowed to do,” Hertel said. “We would have to cease operations next year.”
He said he hoped voters remember all of the services provided by the buses to county residents.
“On a daily basis, thousands of people, including seniors and people with disabilities rely on SMART for work, school, medical appointments and shopping,” Hertel said. “A lot of these people do not have another means of transportation so if we close there will be a huge impact in the different communities.”
(Bob Oliver can be reached at [email protected])