January 22, 2014 - When Oxford, Addison and Orion township voters head to the polls later this year, they could be asked to approve a dedicated millage to help keep the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) rolling down the road.
NOTA driver Tom Hosinski (right) helps passenger Ann Eickhoff navigate her wheelchair onto an electric lift that allows disabled individuals to easily access the agency's vans and buses. Hosinski, of Lake Orion, picked up Eickhoff from physical therapy at the McLaren Oakland facility in Oxford and took her home to Independence Village of Waterstone. "NOTA is a godsend," Eickhoff said. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
Last week, the NOTA board voted 8-0 to request the three township boards each place a five-year, 0.25-mill property tax on the August ballot.
The proposed millage would allow NOTA to make up the $425,000 in federal grant funding it will lose after this year, implement an ongoing vehicle replacement program and keep 13 vehicles on the road Monday through Friday.
"I think that we can all agree that we need income," said NOTA board member Mike McDonald, who's also the Leonard Village president. "We have to make up for the loss of the grant money. And the most efficient way to do that is with a dedicated millage that's spread across the three commonties."
NOTA provides low-cost transportation to senior citizens, disabled individuals and low-income folks living in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships along with the villages of Oxford, Leonard and Lake Orion.
Under NOTA's proposed 0.25-mill tax, a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $25 annually while a home with a $50,000 taxable value would pay $12.50 a year.
One mill is worth $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.
In its first year, the proposed millage would generate an estimated $578,785 in revenue with $336,088 coming from Orion, $172,239 from Oxford and $70,458 from Addison.
Minus the estimated $14,470 that would be captured by Oxford and Lake Orion's Downtown Development Authorities, NOTA would net an estimated $564,513 from the three townships.
"Hopefully, all three communities will vote for it," McDonald said. "It will be sad if one or all don't support it. But I think a quarter-mill is a very realistic and cost-effective (option)."
NOTA currently receives $425,000 in federal New Freedom and Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) grants.
This grant funding will disappear next year because the federal government changed the way it funds transportation and this revenue source is no longer available to NOTA, according to NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson.
NOTA has federal funds to cover this year's operations, but not after that.
Gustafson fears if this revenue is not replaced, NOTA will have to cut the number of buses on the road weekdays from 13 to six.
In addition to making up for the lost federal funding, the proposed millage would give NOTA the additional revenue to institute a vehicle replacement program.
This would allow NOTA to purchase three new vehicles (for $35,000 each) on an annual basis over the next five years to replace older, high-mileage vehicles in a timely manner.
"We do not currently have any budgeted amount for vehicle replacement and I think that's a problem, especially going forward," Gustafson told the board.
Right now, seven of NOTA's 18 vehicles have mileages ranging from 155,187 to 207,210 miles.
NOTA can request vehicles be replaced through the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) system, but they must be at least five years old and have at least 100,000 miles on them.
This requirement, Gustafson said, "makes it very difficult to operate these vehicles because we put so many miles on them."
NOTA vehicles often exceed 100,000 miles long before they're five years old. For example, NOTA currently has three 2009 vans scheduled for replacement and their mileages are already between 155,187 and 172,603.
"They're just hitting five years, but they're already almost ready for scrap because they've had so many miles put on them," she said.
The other issue is the time that it takes SMART to replace them.
"It will take about four years to get these replaced," Gustafson said. "So, we have to keep these vehicles operating for four years while they have this many miles on them."
NOTA has two 2005 vans – it's oldest vehicles – that have been waiting to be replaced since 2009. Their mileages are 160,171 and 172,478.
"It's been four years and we still don't have vehicles to replace them," Gustafson said. "One is on blocks. We can't even use it, but we have to keep the vehicle in order to get it replaced."
NOTA has a 2008 van with 207,210 miles scheduled for replacement.
"It will take four years to get it, so how can we keep this vehicle operating for four years when it already has 200,000 miles? That's crazy," Gustafson said. "It's difficult for us to operate when we have vehicles that are aging and then you've got to wait so many years (to replace them)."
The proposed millage would only cover the federal funding NOTA is losing and provide additional revenue to replace vehicles.
It would not replace local government contributions or rider fares.
If the proposed millage were approved, the three townships and three villages would continue paying a combined $211,687 annually, while Training and Treatment Innovations would continue contributing $200,000 per year.
NOTA would also still collect fares from its riders. In 2014, fares are expected to bring in $44,000.
The agency charges $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the townships, but still within NOTA's 223-square-mile service area.
"We are going to have to do a good job of getting the information out (to voters) and making sure the public understands what it is we're asking for and why we're asking for it," McDonald said. "I think if it's packaged correctly, they'll support it."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.