August 4, 2010 at 10:22 am

SMART millage passes easily

The majority of voters Tuesday supported a millage renewal for the SMART bus system. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Residents across southeastern Michigan overwhelmingly supported the SMART bus system, voting by wide margins to keep the millage and the buses rolling.

In other suburban races, Oakland County voters also favored measures to fund Oakland Community College and the county's parks.

Suburban police and funding measures did not fare as well; Clarkston voters said no to higher taxes for police service, while voters in Eastpointe and Mount Clemens said no to measures that would have trimmed those cities' budget deficits.

With 90 percent of votes tabulated in Macomb, 72 percent of voters said yes on the millage to keep SMART buses running across Metro Detroit. A yes vote would renew a .59-mill tax over two years in Oakland County and for four years in Macomb and Wayne counties. Oakland County voters were approving the issue by a 79-21 percent margin early today. In Wayne County, 74 percent voted in favor of the renewal.

John and Linda Miller of Westland voted against the SMART measure.

"I side with Livonia," said John Miller, 70, of the community that opted out of SMART four years ago. "I don't think it's working."

With a gloomy economy and a state unemployment rate around 13 percent -- one of the highest in the country -- some suburban voters said they were motivated by ballot issues that would affect their tax rates.

With almost half the ballots counted, the OCC millage was ahead by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. An Oakland County parks and recreation measure also was passing by a margin of 76-23.

Clarkston also voted against higher taxes to pay for police services. In Clarkston, city officials sought to change the city charter to collect up to 20 mills -- up from 15 mills for general operations in order to keep their police department. The issue failed by the slimmest of margins -- 203-195. It would have cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $500 a year. Now, the city will have to disband its police department of two full-time and nine part-time employees, said Dennis Ritter, city manager.

"It obviously takes away some of the community's identity," Ritter said. "It's just a sign of the times with consolidation and the things like that. Everybody is just running out of money."

In Macomb County, Sheriff Mark Hackel will be a heavy favorite to win the newly created county executive post in November.

Hackel, 48, of Macomb Township is the sole Democrat. Preliminary results show it appears retired U.S. Army chief warrant officer Randell J. Shafer will be his challenger. Shafer had a 72 percent lead over his Republican counterpart, businessman Simon Haddad, with 85 percent of precincts reporting.

The executive will be responsible for running the county's day-to-day operations. The $132,787-a-year position was approved by voters last November as part of a new charter that becomes effective Jan. 1.

In an unusual turn, four Democratic incumbents on the Board of Commissioners were ousted. The number of seats is being cut in half from 26, which forced incumbents in four districts to run against each other. Board members will continue to serve two-year terms, but will represent new districts drawn up by an apportionment commission.

Toni Moceri in District 1 in Warren beat Andrey Duzyj; Phil DiMaria defeated Joan Flynn in District 3, which covers Warren and Eastpointe; William Crouchman beat Michael Boyle in District 10 in St. Clair Shores; and Carey Torrice lost to Jeffrey Sprys in District 13, covering parts of Clinton Township, Fraser and Macomb Township.Voters in Ray Township approved a 1.5-mill renewal for fire and rescue operations and a 1-mill renewal for fire and rescue equipment.

In Eastpointe, voters weren't as kind. A proposed millage hike will be overwhelmingly defeated. With nearly all votes counted, the no votes outnumbered yes votes 71 percent to 29 percent. The increase to 15 mills from 12 mills was expected to generate about $1.6 million to help offset a $3.3 million deficit.

In Livingston County, residents in Unadilla Township decided they are unwilling to pay more to fund parks and recreation. Voters in the municipality of 3,470 turned down a millage increase 302-252.

Meanwhile, in Cohoctah Township, residents approved a millage renewal targeted for road improvements by a 367-197 vote.

Staff Writers Christine Ferretti, Catherine Jun and Mike Martindale contributed.