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The Source for Public Transportation News and Analysis May 6, 2011
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Transit Ballot Initiatives Pass in Ohio and Michigan

Voters approved six transportation-related ballot measures in elections May 3. Five of the measures, all in Michigan, were property tax renewals or increases, while the other, in Stark County, OH, was a sales tax renewal.

The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) in Canton, OH, will continue operating at its current level thanks to voters throughout Stark County who renewed the current 0.25 percent sales tax for another five years. The vote, according to preliminary counts, was 67 percent in favor of the measure and 33 percent opposed.

The sales tax—originally passed in 1997 and renewed in 2002 and 2006—expires in June 2012, and the renewal will extend it through June 2017. It provides 74 percent of the agency’s operating budget and is expected to generate about $11 million each year.

Prior to the election, SARTA had said it would have had to shut down had the measure not passed.

In Grand Rapids, MI, a measure to increase the current five-year, 1.12-mill property tax levy by 0.35 mills for the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) passed by a preliminary margin of 136 votes. Voters in Grand Rapids and East Grand Rapids came out strongly in favor of the ballot issue, overcoming its defeat in Grandville, Walker, Wyoming, and Kentwood.

“I think it’s telling, in this difficult time, that we were still able to pass a millage increase to provide service improvements, and that we’re able to move forward with the first fixed guideway project in Michigan because of it. We’re looking at a future that is much brighter than yesterday,” said Peter Varga, executive director of The Rapid.

The levy will now total 1.47 mills for seven years, eventually raising $15.6 million annually. Varga said The Rapid plans to make improvements gradually, beginning with hiring additional bus operators, then purchasing 17 new buses to improve weekday bus peak frequency to 15 minutes on some routes and extension of the Cross County Connector to the agency’s central station, and ultimately introducing Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit service on Division Avenue.

The other property tax measures in Michigan included renewal of a 0.4-mill levy to fund the Macatawa Area Transit Authority in Holland, which passed with more than 76 percent of the vote; a 0.5-mill property tax renewal and restoration for local bus service in Benzie County, approved by three quarters of county voters; in Kalkaska County, 72 percent in favor of renewing a five-year, 0.25-mill levy for the county’s public transit authority; and a 0.95-mill property tax increase for Harbor Transit and road/bridge investment in Grand Haven Township, which received 59 percent of the vote.


Photo by Cory Morse, The Grand Rapids Press

Jubilant voters celebrate in Grand Rapids, MI. 

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