Grand Traverse and Leelanau County voters will decide the fate of six local millage and bond proposals May 2 – including an increase for Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) officials say will allow the organization to update its fleet and facilities and offer a range of new services.
BATA is seeking a five-year, .5 mill millage rate from 2018 to 2022 – an increase over the organization’s existing millage rate of .3447. The current millage rate expires at the end of this year. If approved, the new rate would be BATA’s first millage increase in more than 14 years, according to Executive Director Kelly Dunham.
“We wanted to keep it as low as we could for taxpayers, but also position our organization to be able to be responsive to the community’s needs,” Dunham says. “So we established the rate of .5 (mill). It gives us some room for growth, and allows us to maintain our asset base.”
The millage increase is expected to raise an estimated $3.5 million for BATA in 2018. Dunham says funds will go toward replacing BATA’s aging fleet, maintaining facilities, and making shelter and stop improvements. BATA also plans to invest in several new services for riders, including a long-discussed downtown Traverse City loop featuring bus service every 15 minutes.
“It could truly become a viable option for people using it to commute downtown, or visitors or tourists who need more frequent service,” says Dunham. Other new services funded by the millage would include expanded Park-n-Ride options, technology upgrades – including mobile payment options, real-time bus tracking, and online scheduling and purchasing of rides – and expanded rural service.
“That would be specifically the demand response service, which is provided to the further-reaching areas of Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties,” says Dunham. “We know the population of both counties is aging rapidly, and that the fixed-route model doesn’t work as well for elderly riders. So we want to enhance rural options for those senior and disabled riders.”
The .5 mill rate would cost a homeowner with a $200,000 home ($100,000 taxable value) $50 per year. Dunham says the rate is lower than the average statewide transit millage rate of .6 mill ($60 per year), as well as local millages like the Grand Traverse County Road Commission (1.0 mill rate/$100 per year) and Traverse Area District Library (.9544 mill rate/$95 per year). Though Dunham acknowledges there’s “always a risk anytime you’re asking for more money” – in BATA’s case, the potential loss of 34 percent of its funding if the millage proposal fails – she says a community needs assessment conducted by the organization and a survey of more than 700 registered voters showed “overwhelming support” for the increase.
“I believe this community is very supportive of public transit and recognizes the value BATA provides not only to Grand Traverse but Leelanau County,” she says. “(Those surveyed) want more services, and in order to deliver those services or any amount of growth in our transit system, we need to have a larger level of local support.”
In addition to BATA’s millage, Grand Traverse and Leelanau County voters will weigh in on five other proposals that were filed by last week's February 7 deadline for the May 2 election. Here’s a quick overview of what else is slated for the ballot.
Grand Traverse County
> Elk Rapids School Bonding Proposal: Elk Rapids Schools and Grand Traverse, Antrim and Kalkaska counties are seeking to bond $650,000 in order to build, furnish and equip restroom/concession buildings at the football field/track complex and at the high school soccer/baseball field, as well as prepare, develop and improve athletic fields and sites. The millage levied for the proposed bonds in 2017 is .10 mill ($0.10 on each $1,000 of taxable value) for a net -0- mill increase from the prior year’s levy.
> Benzie County Central Schools Millage Proposal: Benzie County Central Schools and Benzie, Grand Traverse, Manistee and Wexford counties are seeking a 10-year, .9 mill ($0.90 on each $1,000 of taxable value) levy from 2017-2026 to create a sinking fund for the purchase of real estate for sites for – and the construction or repair of – school buildings, for school security improvements, for the acquisition or upgrading of technology and all other purposes authorized by the law. If approved, the millage would generate approximately $700,302 in 2017.
> Forest Area Community Schools Proposals: Forest Area Community Schools and Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties are seeking to bond $4.5 million to build, furnish and equip additions to school buildings; remodel, equip/re-equip, and furnish/refurnish school buildings; build, furnish and equip a new concession stand at the high/middle school; purchase school buses; and prepare, develop, improve and equip athletic facilities and sites. The millage levied for the proposed bonds in 2017 is 1.46 mills ($1.46 on each $1,000 of taxable value) for a 1.00 mill increase over the prior year’s levy.
Forest Area Community Schools and Grand Traverse and Kalkaska counties are also seeking a five-year, 1-mill levy ($1.00 on each $1,000 of taxable value) from 2019-2023 to create a sinking fund for the construction of repair of school buildings, for school security improvements, for the acquisition or upgrading of technology, and all other purposes authorized by the law. If approved, the millage would generate approximately $128,210 in 2019.
Leland Public School: The Leland Public School District is seeking a millage renewal of its 10.9013 mill levy ($10.90 on each $1,000 of taxable value) for operating purposes. The millage is required for the school district to receive its revenue per pupil foundation guarantee from the state. If approved, the millage would generate approximately $3.58 million in 2017.