Home News Oakland: Royal Oak transit tax fails to gain traction

Oakland: Royal Oak transit tax fails to gain traction

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Royal Oak voters decisively rejected a tax for a local transit service Tuesday.

With all precincts reporting, 65 percent of voters turned down the five-year, 1.25-mill proposal.

If the proposal had passed, the owner of a house worth $157,504 would have paid $98 per year.

Although the proposal did not specify what that transportation will look like, a city task force of residents had recommended that the city commission work with the SMART regional public transportation service to create bus routes that take people to downtown, Beaumont Hospital, the Detroit Zoo and other spots in the community.

The task force estimated it would cost nearly $4.8 million to operate per year, with SMART pitching in more than $300,000.

According to the ballot language, the millage would “defray the costs of establishing, operating and maintaining a public transit system in the City of Royal Oak.” The ultimate decision on how to use the money would have been up to the city commission.

Under the task forces plan, the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation would have operated the Royal Oak Go, or ROGO, system and purchase 14 buses for the service. Additionally, an estimated 30 percent of the costs would have come from state and federal funding.

Several voters said Tuesday they thought the new tax was worth it to provide transportation to those who otherwise wouldnt have it.

“I would appreciate it, if I didnt have car,” said Linda Gladstone, 68, of Royal Oak.

Todd Lenk, a 51-year-old sales engineer, agreed, adding it would help to alleviate congestion downtown.

“It would be nice not to have deal with the parking,” he said.

Others, however, said they voted no on the proposal, citing concerns about higher taxes and questioning whether it was worth the extra investment.

Jeremy Mastej, 45, who works at Beaumont Hospital, estimated his taxes have increased 6 percent over the past 10 years.

“Sidewalks were redone that didnt need replacing,” he said. “The city has enough taxes.”

For four years, Alison Dague, a 38-year-old nurse, said she used the regional busing system.

“I dont think we need more,” Dague said. “I think the system has enough.”

Still several others left their polling stations saying they did not have enough information on the proposal and wanted a more concrete plan.

“I think theres a lot of other transportation options,” said Eric Darin, a 27-year-old engineer. “You see the buses go around the city empty or with one or two people. Im not against increasing funding for transportation, but it seems like there are options that are more cost-efficient.”

The task force, led by former state Rep. Marie Donigan, D-Royal Oak, suggested two new fixed routes along Crooks Road and Coolidge Highway to downtown as well as along 13 Mile, Campbell and 11 Mile roads to downtown. It also would have expanded a SMART route from Big Beaver to Woodward.

The task forces plan included 25 bus shelters and up to 168 bus stops with signs. It also called for onboard cameras and an app that would allow riders to track bus arrivals. In total, capital costs would have cost an additional $1.25 million.

Perhaps most controversial, however, was the inclusion of a Royal Oak transit manager, who would have been accountable to the city and “may be in a better position to be responsive to specific local concerns” than SMART, Robert Cramer, SMART deputy general manager, said last month. The task force assumed a $75,000 salary, but with benefits estimates the position would cost $115,875.

Royal Oak voters also rejected a six-year tax of 0.75 mills to cover the cost of replacing public sidewalks. With all precincts reporting, 64 percent voted down the millage.

Elsewhere in Oakland County, voters decided whether to fund construction of new community centers.

Voters in the city of Berkley narrowly turned down an annual 1.7 mills levied over 20 years to pay for the bond covering the cost of a new $15.3 million, 38,000-square-foot community center. It was to be built on the site of the 45-year-old center on Robina Avenue. The current center and its closed ice rink would have been removed to make room for parking.

The new building would have included multipurpose rooms, a gym, an indoor track and spaces dedicated for seniors and teens. For a home with a market value of $150,000, the millage would have cost property owners $122.51 per year. With all precincts reporting, 51 percent of voters turned down the proposal.

The city did win approval of 2 mills to fund $1.14 million in improvements to roads, sewers and water mains over 10 years. With all precincts reporting, the proposal passed with 70 percent voting yes. For a home worth $150,000, property owners would pay $150 per year.

Voters in Waterford Towship turned down a proposal to fund a new community center. The community had paid off its new police and fire station and asked voters to evaluate a 0.84 mill tax for the $30 million center, set to be built behind its township hall overlooking Clam Lake with 350 parking spaces. The issue failed with 57.8 percent voting against the proposal. 

For an average house worth $113,640 in Waterford, property owners would have paid $47.73 per year.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

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