April 09, 2014 - By C.J. Carnacchio
James Barnhart is a man on a mission – make sure voters in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships approve the proposed North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) millage on the Aug. 5 ballot.
"I feel it is really important that somebody speak up," he said. "From what I understand, the (NOTA) board can't (encourage residents to vote yes), but I can."
But he can't get the job done all by himself.
The Orion Township resident needs funds – the goal is to raise $1,000 – and volunteers to pull off a successful campaign and he's soliciting both as the chairperson/treasurer of the Supporters of NOTA Millage Committee (SNMC).
Contributions to the SNMC can be mailed to 2828 Walmsley Circle Drive, Lake Orion, MI 48360. Folks interested in volunteering can call Barnhart at (248) 343-7360.
"I think it is important that we get the message out and get the communities educated," he said. "I've talked to other people in our area and a lot of people don't know what NOTA does or what it is. They just don't have a clue."
NOTA provides low-cost, publicly subsidized transportation for 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.
In 2013, NOTA drove 450,000 miles and provided 37,427 rides.
On behalf of NOTA, the three townships will be requesting a new property tax of up to 0.25 mills be levied for five years, from 2014-18, to help pay for operating and capital expenses.
One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value. A home with a $50,000 taxable value would pay $12.50 annually under the NOTA tax, while one with a $100,000 taxable value would pay $25 per year.
"The cost for this millage is really quite small," Barnhart said.
The proposed millage would allow NOTA to replace the $425,000 in federal and state funding it will lose after this year, implement an ongoing vehicle replacement program and keep 13 vehicles on the road Monday through Friday.
"It really needs to pass," Barnhart said. "I've got a great feeling that it will pass because I think the communities are going to step up and provide for our seniors and disabled. I don't think they're going to let them hang out there."
Barnhart said NOTA is particularly vital to seniors because it helps them maintain the two most important things in their lives – "their health and their financial stability."
NOTA helps them maintain their health by giving them rides to medical appointments, dialysis treatments, pharmacies and grocery stores.
"There's several people that go to dialysis (centers) that have no family, that have no money and NOTA is taking care of them," Barnhart said.
NOTA helps seniors maintain their financial stability by only charging its users $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the townships, but still within the authority's 223-square-mile service area.
"The cost for them to go anywhere is very, very minimal," Barnhart said. "Most seniors are on fixed incomes and they don't have a whole lot of money. The ones that I've seen and the people that I know, they live very difficult lives."
"It's my passion to help these people," he added. "I know what they're facing and what they're going through . . . If they don't have that ride (from NOTA), their independence (is put) in jeopardy."
Barnhart is very familiar with NOTA's services and inner workings because he spent a little over two years working as a driver and about eight months serving as the operations manager. He left when General Motors asked him to come out of retirement and go back to work as an engineer.
"It was a really tough decision on my part to leave NOTA because I loved the job," he said.
If approved, the NOTA millage would generate in its first year of levy, an estimated $172,000 in Oxford, $70,000 in Addison and $336,000 in Orion, for a total of $578,000.
That would be in addition to the $211,687 NOTA already receives annually from the three townships and three villages.
NOTA currently receives $425,0000 in funding from two federal grant programs – one is called New Freedom, the other is Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC). These grants are funded by a mix of federal dollars and matching state monies.
That money will no longer be available to NOTA after this year as these funds are being reallocated by the federal government for transportation in other areas.
If NOTA isn't able to replace this funding via the proposed millage, it will be forced to cut its budget by 47 percent, which will result in a reduction of its weekday bus routes from 13 to 7.