July 16, 2014 - Lynn Gustafson made her pitch last week before the Oxford Township Board as to why the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) needs voters to approve a proposed tax supporting it on the Aug. 5 ballot.
"I believe the seniors, the disabled and low-income (individuals) deserve this essential service," said Gustafson, who serves as NOTA director. "There's so many of our riders that have no other options. They don't have friends, they don't have family and they would be home-bound (without NOTA).
"You don't have to go to a Third World country to see a need. There's a need here in Oxford and Addison and Orion townships."
NOTA is requesting voters in all three townships approve a new property tax of up to 0.25 mills that would 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 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.
The looming loss of this outside funding is "the biggest challenge" that NOTA's ever faced, according to Gustafson.
"Half of our current budget comes from federal and state grants," she explained. "They're no longer available due to a change in the federal transportation legislation."
"NOTA's never asked for a millage in the past because we've been fortunate enough to receive enough grants – actually more than our fair share," Gustafson continued. "However, (now) we have no choice and if the millage doesn't pass, we'll be forced to cut half of our service levels. We are not asking for buildings (or) expansions. This is just bare-bones, existing service."
If approved, the 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.
NOTA, established in 2001, provides low-cost, publicly-subsidized transportation for senior citizens (age 60 or older), permanently or temporarily disabled individuals and low-income folks living in the three townships.
The agency gave more than 37,000 rides last year, driving more than 450,000 miles.
"Oxford has the biggest percentage of our ridership. It's 49 percent," Gustafson said. "Orion Township is a close second at 46 percent and Addison Township is 5 percent."
Gustafson told township officials the main thing NOTA does is give riders the "independence and freedom to handle daily tasks."
Riders are driven to doctors' appointments, dialysis treatments, senior centers, church services, grocery stores, therapy and counseling appointments, work training, community events, the Oxford/Orion FISH food pantry and hair appointments.
Thirteen NOTA buses are on the road Monday through Friday. Saturday has one NOTA bus in service, while Sunday has two on the road, but they're only for transporting folks to and from church services.
Gustafson noted fees are "very nominal."
NOTA charges $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the townships, but still within the agency's 223-square-mile service area.
That's much less than the cost to NOTA.
"The actual cost to provide (this service) is $22 a ride," Gustafson said.
To those residents who question why they should support a NOTA tax when they don't use the system, Gustafson said, "There's so many of our riders that at one time did not need NOTA because they were self-sufficient (and) had jobs and cars."
But she noted that "life does change" as folks experience "accidents or illnesses," which can make them reliant on NOTA for transportation.