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Oxford wants to hear from Independence board on potential NOTA expansion

November 24, 2010 - Before they agree to anything, Oxford Township officials want more details concerning a proposal to expand the number of communities and riders served by the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA).

"This is a very big thing and I would never even attempt to do anything like this without going to the township boards and trying to answer their questions because you ultimately are the ones that make the decisions," said Pat Fitchena, executive director of NOTA.

NOTA is exploring the possibility of serving riders in Independence Township and the City of the Village of Clarkston for a proposed $15,000 per month (or $180,000 annually) contract fee.

In addition to contract fee, it's proposed that Independence would contribute its existing five buses to the NOTA fleet, which currently consists of 16 vehicles.

"Those vehicles would remain in their township because it would be senseless to bring these vehicles all the way over here to Oxford and then dispatch them back to Independence Township and Clarkston," Fitchena noted.

NOTA currently provides free rides to senior citizens, disable individuals and people who depend on a transit system to get to work, job training or employment opportunities. It only serves folks in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships.

In light of this proposal, the Oxford Township Board recently voted 6-1 to request a motion from the Independence Township Board stating that it's "seriously interested" in using NOTA's services.

Included that motion, Oxford officials also want a "thorough discussion and analysis" as to what the monthly and annual fee would be "based on an actual budget of the services that would be provided Independence."

"I don't think that's enough to cover it," said township Treasurer Joe Ferrari, referring to the proposed $15,000 monthly/$180,000 annual contract fee.

This all started because Independence Township's Operations Review Task Force, a group of citizen volunteers, was charged with looking for ways to save the township money.

"It is not the township board from Independence that is sitting on this committee," Fitchena said. "These are residents of that community. It's a cross-section of their township and Clarkston, seeking answers to see if they could provide better transportation for less money. They know that we have a very well-respected reputation in the field of transportation."

The committee approached NOTA about the possibility of providing transportation to Independence and Clarkston's senior citizens and disabled individuals.

"The bottom-line was money," Fitchena said.

Independence currently has its own transportation system that's run through its senior center.

Fitchena indicated the committee informed NOTA that Independence is currently "paying over $200,000 a year to provide transportation for about 7,000 people."

"Their biggest problem that we could see when we talked with them was . . . two of their full-time drivers are union drivers. With their benefits, each one of them makes over $69,000 a year," she told the board. "That's $140,000 right off the top just for those two drivers."

However, these figures did not match the information provided by Susan Hendricks, finance director for Independence Township.

She told this reporter that based on the 2010 budget, Independence is spending $167,500 on transportation. That includes about $104,000 (or $52,000 each) for the wages and benefits for the two full-time union drivers.

Supervisor Bill Dunn was troubled by the fact that NOTA's received nothing formal from the two municipalities involved.

"One thing that bothers me is we're not getting the request from the agencies or the governments that are funding it, specifically Clarkston or Independence Township," he said. "We're getting something from a committee."

Ferrari expressed his concern about the possibility of bringing two highly-compensated union drivers into NOTA.

But Fitchena said that's not an issue.

"Anybody that would come to work for NOTA would be working at NOTA's wages. There would be no difference," she said. "If they became NOTA employees, they would be making the same amount of money as NOTA employees."

Fitchena said ultimately, if any or all of the township boards for Oxford, Addison and Orion reject the idea of providing contract services to Independence and Clarkston, it won't happen.

"Addison and Orion have stated that they could go along with this program on a trial basis for six months to see how it would work," she noted.

Independence Township's transportation system does provide rides to a very small number of Springfield Township residents.

But the NOTA proposal doesn't include them.

"At this time, they are not asking NOTA to provide transportation to Springfield Township," Fitchena said. "They only had about 55 riders in a month, period."

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.
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