Oakland to vote on RTA, roads, safety, school funding

Mike Martindale, The Detroit News

While national races are the main events in next month’s election, on the local level Oakland County voters will also decide more than $77 million in millages and dozens of charter amendment questions.

About 76 percent of the county’s 942,000 registered voters are expected to go to the polls, said Elections Division Director Joseph Rozell.

“We are seeing a high number of requests from the military and overseas voters wanting to verify they are registered to vote and how to obtain absentee ballots,” he said. “This reflects there is a lot of interest in this election which is not unusual when the White House is to be occupied by someone new.”

About 20 percent of the county’s registered voters turned out for the August primary, he said.

Oakland County voters, like those in Macomb, Wayne and Washtenaw counties, will be asked to consider a Regional Transit Authority funding request for 1.2 mills over 20 years. The money is expected to build and operate a public transportation system between the counties including rapid transit bus routes and a rail route between Detroit and Ann Arbor.

Advocates say it’s a long overdue service needed to move the region forward. Critics complain the cost is too high and too few people use mass transit to justify the expense.

If the millage is approved, a person owning a home with an assessed value of $100,000 would pay about $120 a year. It is estimated the millage would raise nearly $161 million in its first year. Voters in all three counties must vote yes for the assessment to pass.

There are several dozen local proposals in eight municipalities, including millages and bond proposals in 11 communities.

Roads and public safety

Franklin voters will decide whether the village should borrow up to $15 million and issue general obligation tax bonds to make improvements to the village’s streets. The estimated millage to be levied to pay the proposed bonds in the first year is 3.3104 mills or about $331 per $100,000 in assessed property valuation.

“Franklin’s last road project managed 60 percent of our roads and was 20 years ago,” Trustee Michael Seltzer said. The average life expectancy of roads is 16 years so we are beyond that.

“This new proposal will accommodate 100 percent of our village roadways. Villagers expect and deserve safe roads for our community and mindful of the cost of maintaining 20-year-old roads I believe it is time and necessary to move ahead on this major roadway improvement.”

Voters in Orchard Lake and Sylvan Lake are being asked to consider whether money from property seizures and forfeitures from crimes should go only toward improvement of local roads.

Public safety related questions are up in Oakland Township (1.7 mill renewal), the village of Lake Orion (1.4 additional mills) and Royal Oak (3.9 mill renewal).

Local issues

Milford Township officials are seeking to keep 1.25 mills for the next 10 years to raise $103,000 for senior center services.

“The senior center is a very popular destination and important to our residents,” said Cynthia Dagenhardt, township treasurer. “This is actually a renewal of a 10-year millage that expires this year. The center is where our seniors go for lunch, trips, activities. There are card and knitting clubs there. It’s a very active place.”

The renewal, which runs through 2025, translates to $12.50 a year for a home with assessed value of $100,000.

“This all goes to fund the center which would otherwise be part of the general fund,” she said. “We could do it, I just don’t know for how long.”

Charter amendments include changing requirements on who can hold local office in Oxford and Franklin, which has nine other amendments. Other communities with charter questions are Hazel Park (staggered office terms), Orchard Lake (committees and bidding rules), Southfield (candidate rules) and Sylvan Lake (property forfeiture).

School questions

School funding is on the ballot in several communities, none bigger than in Birmingham where voters are being asked to renew 10.9236 mills for general operating purposes. If passed the measure, which would run through June 2022, would provide $43.2 million for the 2017 calendar year.

“It is a renewal — there is no tax increase and no change in tax rate,” said Sara Locricchio, who has volunteered to urge residents to support the millage.

Locricchio’s group set up a pro-millage website, organized a campaign that mailed out 12,000 postcards and passed out 50 yard signs to parents at each of the district’s 13 schools asking residents to vote “yes” on the millage.

“It is a way to just preserve everything absolutely fabulous about Birmingham schools while also maintaining property values,” she said. “I am a graduate of Birmingham schools and have a child who is a fourth-grade student. As a parent it is one of the most important things we can do to impact our children.”

The millage would cost about $1,100 annually for a home assessed at $100,000.

Hazel Park seeks a building and site sinking fund tax proposal to repair buildings over the next decade. The 2 mill question — $2 per $1,000 of taxable evaluation or about $100 a year for a house with a $50,000 assessed value — is expected to raise $549,682 in its first year.

Other school questions are up in Oxford (renew 17 mills, add 0.2 mills for operating expenses) and Royal Oak (increase 0.8 mill on non-homestead property).