August 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

SMART millage OK'd in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne

The ballot measure would increase the SMART bus service's property tax levy to 1 mill from 0.59 mills over four years, generating $27 million a year to pay for new buses and repairs to old ones. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

The SMART millage in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties enjoyed a resounding victory.

Oakland County voters approved the millage 74 percent to 26 percent, according to unofficial election results. In Macomb, the unofficial tally showed the millage passed 60 percent to 40 percent. In Wayne County, the vote was 63 percent to 37 percent in favor of the millage.

The ballot measure increases the bus service’s property tax levy to 1 mill from 0.59 mills over four years, generating $27 million a year to pay for new buses and repairs to old ones. It would also help balance the system’s $110 million budget.

The average owner of a home assessed at $100,000 would pay $100 a year if the millage passes.

John Hertel, the general manager of the SMART system, said he was concerned about how a light turnout might affect the results but “you never take anything for granted.”

“I think we did the best we could given our limited resources,” Hertel said. “It’s in the hands of the people and they will decide it.”

Before the polls closed, voters were mixed in their views of the millage.

Redford Township resident Bob Broquet, 48, said he voted against the SMART millage because “they should try upkeep on what they already have.”

The service, Broquet said, also doesn’t appear to be utilized by many and therefore doesn’t justify the cost. “They should be running what they do have more efficiently,” he said.

Michael Kidder, 43, of Berkley, also said he tends to not be in favor of “too many increases in taxes or millage rates.”

“I usually don’t vote yes on those,” Kidder said just before he went to the polls in the early evening. “I think we’ve got to do more with less. All businesses have been forced into the same position. We don’t have as much revenue in the local municipalities, at the state level. We’ve got to do better.”

Camron Amin, 48, and his wife Amelia, 49, of Berkley, voted in favor of the millage.

“That’s the main reason I wanted to make sure to vote today,” Amelia Amin said. “I know a lot of people depend on it to get to work. I think if we want to make this economy stronger and make it a better place for people to live, you just need to have a decent public transportation system in a city of this size.”

Camron said they moved from the Chicago area “where there’s a pretty robust public transportation system and we’re convinced of its value. We wish it was more robust in this area. We certainly don’t want to see it dialed back.”

Results of the millage vote are specific to each county. For example, if voters in Macomb and Wayne pass the millage and it fails in Oakland, SMART bus service would continue in the two counties but not in Oakland.

SMART officials say 80 percent of its buses, or 196, have 500,000 miles or more of use, which is the maximum the industry recommends. They also argue the longtime bus system that serves Wayne, Oakland and Macomb will falter because its finances are in the red.

Hertel has been dire about what happens the results if it fails.

“If this doesn’t pass, we go out of business,” Hertel said. “Because property values have gone down since 2008, we’ve lost $48 million in what would have been easily projected revenue. And that’s a conservative estimate. We may have lost more.”

SMART hasn’t sought a millage in more than a decade and officials say the 0.59 mills is among the lowest rates in the state. If the four-year millage is raised to 1 mill, SMART will still trail The Rapid in Grand Rapids, whose tax rate is 1.47 mills, and the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, whose tax rate is 2.70.
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