Village wants ability to opt out of proposed transit tax

Oxford Village added its name to the growing list of municipalities that believe they should have the ability to choose whether or not their residents are taxed for a proposed regional transit system that excludes them by failing to directly provide them with services.

Last week, the village council voted 3-2 to approve a resolution “in opposition to a ‘county-wide millage’” for the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA).

“The village requests and supports an opt-out provision for the RTA county-wide ballot proposal wherein the village will opt out,” the resolution states.

Voting in favor of the resolution were village President Sue Bossardet and council members Dave Bailey and Erik Dolan. Voting against it were council members Maureen Helmuth and Joe Frost.

RTA officials are considering placing a 20-year, 1.5-mill property tax request on the ballot in Oakland, Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties to fund the development and operation of a regional transit system under a new plan called Connect Southeast Michigan.

If the RTA board votes to send the proposal to the electorate and it gets approved, the millage is expected to generate a total of $5.4 billion over two decades.

Village attorney Bob Davis explained “the basis” for Oxford’s resolution is “we have a fully-functional, wonderful NOTA program that (serves) our needs and this particular regional transit authority would not (serve), or extend service (to), this community”

NOTA, which stands for North Oakland Transportation Authority, provides low-cost, publicly-subsidized transportation for senior citizens, individuals with physical and/or developmental disabilities, and low-income folks living in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships along with their respective villages.

“NOTA provides direct service routes . . . at a much lower cost to the participating communities,” the resolution states.

NOTA is primarily funded by local taxpayers via a mix of contributions from the municipalities and a dedicated property tax approved by Oxford and Orion voters in 2014 followed by Addison voters in 2015.

The approved tax rate was originally 0.25 mill, but the Headlee Amendment reduced it slightly in each township. A proposal to renew the NOTA millage will appear on the Aug. 7 ballot in all three townships.

Although the resolution expresses the village’s opposition to a county-wide RTA millage and supports municipalities having the right to opt out, it does not oppose the creation of a regional mass transit system.

“The village supports the decision of the communities that derive a direct benefit (from the plan) and select to opt in to the RTA program,” the resolution states. “However, the village believes only those communities that opt in should be assessed for the RTA program.”

“We appreciate those who are going to benefit,” Davis explained. “We’re not saying it’s a nasty thing. We’re just saying that we don’t want to pay for something that we don’t get a benefit from.”

Helmuth disagreed.

“I would argue that we do get a benefit,” she said.

“We might not get a direct benefit,” continued Helmuth, but she believes more people using public transportation, instead of their own vehicles, would yield a “savings” in terms of road construction costs and help improve the environment by decreasing the amount of exhaust emissions in the air.

“I think regional transportation is very important and it’s got to start somewhere,” Helmuth noted.

Dolan supported the resolution because he’s “not interested” in Oxford, or north Oakland County, funding something that’s going to “essentially” and “exclusively” benefit Wayne County and those communities along the proposed commuter rail service that would connect Detroit and Ann Arbor.

“I think it is a detriment to our taxpayers,” he said. “I think it is a waste of their money.”

Dolan also expressed concern about the possibility of a regional transit system leading to an “exorbitant” rise in property values that could “price longstanding residents” out of their communities should they ever wish to sell their homes and move elsewhere in the same area.

“While there are certainly benefits (to developing a regional transit system), there are (just) as many significant detriments to longstanding residents,” he said.

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