Source: Sherman Publications

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NOTA finalizes ballot language

by CJ Carnacchio

March 26, 2014

The final details concerning the North Oakland Transportation Authority's (NOTA) proposed millage were worked out last week and the language was approved 10-0 by its board.

Now, all that is required for placement on the Aug. 5 primary ballot is approvals from the Oxford, Addison and Orion township boards.

NOTA is 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 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.

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.

"A lot of people don't know about NOTA, but it's utilized by their neighbors," said Lake Orion Village President Kenneth Van Portfliet, who serves on the NOTA board.

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.

In the villages of Oxford and Lake Orion, the Downtown Development Authorities would capture approximately $4,000 and $8,000, respectively, from the tax.

Lynn Gustafson, director of NOTA, explained the ballot language was amended to state "up to" 0.25 mills in case some grant funding becomes available in the future and as a result, the full tax wouldn't need to be levied.

NOTA currently receives $425,000 in funding from the federal grant programs known as New Freedom and 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 with 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.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett, who serves on the NOTA board, suggested meeting with local political groups to explain the millage and why it's needed.

"My impression is that there are some people in our community that are just going to say 'vote no' on any new millage," he said. "So, I think it's helpful to sit down . . . (and explain) here's why we're asking for the additional funding, here's what NOTA does, here's the number of seniors that get rides and stuff like that.

"If we don't take a proactive approach, in my opinion, this is probably sunk out of the gate in some communities."

Barnett believes educating the public is going to be critical if the NOTA millage is to succeed at the ballot box.

"Unfortunately, I think there's a large percentage of our community that doesn't even know what NOTA is," he said.

That's why Barnett believes "a good place to start" the education process is with "the groups that are going to actively campaign against something like this." He said NOTA can at least "make sure they have the proper information."

"If they still choose to campaign against it, that's going to be out of our control," he said.

NOTA Chairman Bruce Pearson, who's the Addison Township supervisor, said he's "definitely" going to support the millage "wholeheartedly" for the citizens of his community and try to explain it to everyone, from senior groups to euchre clubs.

"I think as the population ages, (NOTA) becomes more and more important to people living in rural areas," he said. "There are an awful lot of seniors and they're very dependent on this (service)."