NOTA tax renewal headed for August primary ballot

By C.J. Carnacchio

Oxford Leader Editor

When voters head to the polls in August, they will be asked to continue funding a local transportation system that assists folks unable to drive due to health issues and/or financial constraints.

On April 16, Orion Township officials voted unanimously to place the North Oakland Transportation Authority’s (NOTA) renewal request on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot.

Orion voters will be asked to approve 0.2405 mill to be levied from 2019 through 2023. It’s estimated the tax, if approved, will generate $402,818 in its first year.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

NOTA 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 the villages of Oxford, Leonard and Lake Orion.

Last year, the local transportation service provided a total of 38,877 rides.

It’s 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 and Addison voters in 2015.

The approved tax rate was originally 0.25 mill, but the Headlee Amendment reduced it slightly in each township. In Oxford and Orion, the millage expires with the December 2018 tax collection. In Addison, it expires with the December 2019 collection.

The Oxford Township board voted 6-1 to approve a resolution authorizing placement of the millage renewal request from NOTA on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Oxford voters will be asked to renew a levy of up to 0.2409 mill for a period of five years, from 2019 through 2023.

If approved, the millage would generate an estimated $207,690 in revenue from Oxford properties in the first year.

On April 16, Addison Township officials also voted to place NOTA’s renewal request on the Aug. 7 ballot.

Addison voters will be asked to approve 0.2419 mill to be levied from 2020 through 2024. It’s expected to generate $84,646 in revenue its first year, if approved.

If all three millage renewals are approved, NOTA will receive an estimated $695,154 from the townships’ taxpayers in the first year of the levy. That funding is crucial to continuing operations, according to NOTA Director Lynn Gustafson. “It is about half of our budget, so it is extremely vital,” she said.

NOTA’s budget for 2018 is $1.437 million.

Gustafson indicated without the three millages, NOTA would probably have to cut its operations by more than half.

NOTA vehicles are currently on the road a combined 694 hours a week. There are 15 vehicles running on a daily basis Monday through Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, NOTA has two vehicles per day on the road.

Without the millages, Gustafson fears NOTA could only afford to put six or seven vehicles on the road Monday through Friday.

Being forced to make cuts would be hard for NOTA considering its growth.

Last year, NOTA gave 5,008 (or 15 percent) more rides than in 2016.

Just last month, NOTA gave 3,704 rides, which is 271 more than in March 2017.

“The need is continuing to increase,” Gustafson said. “As word gets out that our service is available, more and more people are utilizing it . . . I don’t see the need decreasing at all.”

In 2017, NOTA drivers logged a total of 484,149 miles on the road – 48,077 miles more than in 2016.

“We’re signing up new people every day,” Gustafson said. “The need is definitely out there.”

NOTA charges its users $1 each way for rides within the three townships and $2 each way for destinations outside the townships, but still within the authority’s 223-square-mile service area.

Gustafson encouraged voters to think long-term when contemplating how to mark their ballots.

“You might not need (NOTA) now, but you never know when you might (later),” she said.

She also encouraged folks to register to vote, if they haven’t already done so. The last day to register for the August election is July 9.