Pontiac, Michigan — Oakland County today refused to support a regional transit plan request that would have collected $700 million in taxes from 40 communities over 20 years but provided only $79 million worth of services in return.
The request to support the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA) plan, which excludes more than half a million county residents from the proposed service area, would collect $1.26 billion from county residents through a 1.2-mil tax for 20 years.
“This isn’t the plan that we were looking for,” Chuck Moss, one of Oakland’s two representatives, said during a public meeting in Detroit. “This is not a regional transit plan; it’s a regional taxation plan. It’s a plan without transportation. No taxation without transportation.”
Oakland County was joined by representatives from Macomb County, who also refused to support the tax proposal. Board approval was required in order to send the millage request before the voters in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties and the city of Detroit. Oakland and Macomb each had two representatives and each voted against putting the issue on the November ballot.
Oakland County will push for a legislative solution in Lansing as it continues to seek a regional master transit plan that provides transit services for all residents and businesses in the four counties and Detroit and a meaningful seat at the table when it comes to apportioning local transit funds.
“The current regional master transit plan abandons more than half a million Oakland County residents in 40 of our communities, leaving them with little or no transit services but demanding they pay more than $700 million in taxes over 20 years,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said. “I support regional transit, but I won’t be stampeded into a bad deal.”
Oakland County detailed its continuing concerns on July 5 in a 19-page memo sent to RTA staff. The memo responded to the RTA’s Draft Regional Master Transit Plan released on May 30 which outlined a $4.6 billion, 20-year master transit plan that would be funded by a 1.2-mill tax.
“It called for 40 of our communities to pay 1.2-mil tax for 20 years – in exchange for nothing,” Patterson said. “Then they said we’d get $79 million back for a $700 million investment. You do the math.”
County staff spent the month of June dissecting the plan and consulting with local officials and experts. In its memo, the county asked for specific guarantees that the services promised would be delivered. The request was essentially ignored.
Prior to the May release of the plan, Oakland County had expressed concerns to the RTA since November of 2015. Few of those concerns were answered in the RTA’s Draft Regional Master Transit Plan released in late May 2016 for public comment. Prior to the release, only snippets of the plan were provided for review.
In the meantime, a number of Oakland County communities passed resolutions opposing the RTA’s plan. Highland Township, which straddles M-59 where the RTA has red lined transit service in its plan, said in its resolution, “The Township opposes the RTA Master Plan because it only benefits a few select communities in Oakland County.”
Patterson agreed. “I won’t sacrifice 40 communities on the altar of regional cooperation,” he said.
Oakland County has joined Macomb County in demanding a meaningful seat at the RTA table when it comes to voting for and apportioning local transit funds. Right now, it takes a simple majority vote to change the apportionment of transit funds.
The county has already witnessed that others are willing to abuse that simple majority.
In order to get Oakland County to agree to a pilot program of extending hours of service provided by Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transit (SMART) on Gratiot and Woodward, Detroit RTA representatives claimed to have the votes to change the apportionment of local transit dollars from 52 percent for SMART/48 percent for the Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) to 70 percent/30 percent in favor of DDOT further eroding the suburban transit service.
“When others are willing to use the simple vote majority to squeeze us and play politics, it just isn’t going to work,” Patterson said. “We need to change it to a voting model like the Cobo Authority or SMART where it requires an affirmative vote from each county and the city.”
It appears the change in the RTA board voting requirements for apportioning local transit funds can only happen through the Michigan Legislature.
“We only get one bite at the apple on getting the RTA plan right,” Patterson said. “I’d rather take the time to get the details right than be saddled with a system that doesn’t work well because some were willing to abandon the interests of almost half of Oakland County’s residents.”
A timeline of County Executive Patterson’s on-going support for regional transit: