August 13, 2014 - If Addison Township is going to continue to be part of the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA), it's going to have to pay its fair share for services and vehicles.
Otherwise, the community is out.
That was the consensus of the NOTA board at a special meeting held Friday, Aug. 8 at the agency's office in Lake Orion.
There was only one topic of discussion – what to do about Addison's rejection of a five-year, 0.25-mill property tax request in the Aug. 5 primary election.
The new tax failed 557 to 531 in Addison, but was approved in NOTA's other two communities, Oxford Township (2,132 to 1,830) and Orion Township (2,712 to 2,637).
As a result, NOTA will begin, with the December 2014 tax collection, receiving $172,000 in property tax revenue from Oxford taxpayers and $336,000 from Orion taxpayers.
NOTA will not receive the $70,000 in tax revenue the new millage would have generated in Addison had it passed there.
Addison Supervisor Bruce Pearson, who chairs the NOTA board, wanted to know, in light of the election results, "What is the feeling of this board?"
"Addison did not pass this (millage)," he said. "Does that mean that Addison Township will be out (of NOTA) if they do not contribute their quarter-mill?"
"I'm afraid that's true," said Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, who serves as NOTA's vice chair.
Formed in 2001, NOTA provides low-cost, publicly-subsidized transportation for senior citizens (age 60 and older), permanently or temporarily disabled individuals and low-income folks living in the three townships and their respective villages.
Of the 37,427 rides NOTA gave last year, 2,189 were for Addison residents. From January to July this year, NOTA has given 1,243 rides to Addison users.
"We have no taxi service," Pearson said. "We have no other option. If we do not stay in NOTA, we have no other way of getting our seniors and our disabled people to the doctor or (other places) they need to be . . . There is no other form of (public) transportation out in Addison Township."
Part of NOTA's budget is currently subsidized by contributions from the three townships. For example, Addison is contributing $16,299 this year, while Oxford is paying $83,725 and Orion $104,975.
NOTA's new – and first-ever – millage is meant to make up for the loss of $425,000 in annual federal and state funding that won't be available starting next year; implement an on-going program that replaces three aging NOTA vehicles annually for five years; and keep 13 vehicles per day on the road Monday through Friday.
Dunn said "the fair thing" for Addison to do in order to stay in NOTA would be to "make up that $70,000" the millage was supposed to generate in the township.
"If we didn't do that, the people in Orion and Oxford would be upset that they're subsidizing someone who didn't want to pay for (the service)," he said.
Orion Treasurer Mark Thurber, a NOTA board member, agreed. "I think that's out of the question – just continuing service without Addison's contribution," he said.
It was suggested Addison could pay its share out of the township's budget.
Pearson rejected that idea.
"My citizens have to vote for this," he said. "If they don't vote for it, I'm certainly not going to go around them, behind their backs, and fund this through the (township's) general fund . . . That would be a kick in the teeth to them. I will abide by what they say."
That's why Pearson proposed putting the same millage request back on the Addison ballot in November. The NOTA board voted 7-0 to request the Addison Township Board do just that (see related story on Page 1).
He believes Addison voters should be given another chance to either approve the millage, which means continuing to be a financially-contributing member of NOTA, or reject it, which means severing ties with the agency and receiving no more services.
He wants to "make sure they understand the consequences" of not passing the millage this time. "Now, it's a do-or-die situation," Pearson said.
Losing NOTA "essentially kills public transportation in Addison Township for people that probably need it the most," said Orion Supervisor Chris Barnett, who serves on the NOTA board. "I think that message needs to be clear," he said.
Pearson believes many Addison voters rejected the NOTA millage because they believed it would be turned down in Oxford and Orion. "A lot of my people just automatically thought that this would not pass (in the other two townships)," he explained.
Given that didn't happen, Pearson believes "the dynamics have changed," so it's appropriate to come back to Addison voters for a final decision, a sort of referendum on the township's future involvement in NOTA. Simply put – does Addison want to stay in or opt out?
If the NOTA millage were to fail again in Addison, Pearson promised he wouldn't fight the decision. "As long as they understand the consequences, (if) they vote it down, I'm okay with that," he said. "
There was some discussion about possibly, in lieu of the failed property tax, having NOTA users in Addison pay the actual cost for a ride as opposed to the publicly-subsidized price. NOTA currently charges $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the three townships, but still within the agency's 223-square-mile service area.
The actual cost to provide a ride is an average of $22 each way, according to NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson.
If Addison's NOTA users were to be charged the actual per-ride cost, it was noted that, in order to be fair to Oxford and Orion, they'd also have to be charged for their share of the new vehicle replacement program, which will total $153,000 annually. Addison's portion would be $7,650.
That would tack on an additional $3.50 per ride, bringing the total cost for a NOTA ride to $25.50 each way – a total of $51 roundtrip – for an Addison user.
Pearson noted he has senior citizens and low-income residents who could never afford to pay that much.
If NOTA loses Addison as a member, Gustafson anticipated the agency would have to reduce the number of vehicles it puts on the road per day, Monday through Friday, from 13 to either 11 or 12.
"Which would basically be the vehicles that would be going to Addison," Barnett said. "So, we probably wouldn't see any drop in (bus) routes in Orion and Oxford."
"Right," Gustafson replied.
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.