ESCANABA - Wells and Escanaba Township residents will decide the future of bus service when they take to the polls Tuesday and vote on a millage proposal that would bring Delta Area Transit Authority bus service to the townships.
If approved in both townships, the .5 mill property tax increase (an additional 50 cents per $1,000 of taxable value) would lead to approximately $117,857.75 from Wells Township and $51,253.07 from Escanaba Township. For a property owner with a $50,000 taxable value the cost of the additional millage would be $25 a year, or $2.10 a month.
The funding would be used for additional drivers and buses dedicated solely to the township or townships that approve the millage. This would allow for demand response services in these areas. Residents would be able to request service anytime from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"It's similar to taxi service except it's with a bus and we may be able to pick people up and drop them off along the way," said DATA Director John Stapleton.
Currently, township residents' requests for service are frequently denied due to lack of millage support. Only the cities of Escanaba and Gladstone support DATA through a millage, therefore both cities receive priority service.
"Without a millage we just don't have the funds to provide service outside the area of Escanaba and Gladstone," said Stapleton.
In addition to the $117,857.75 from Wells Township and the $51,253.07 from Escanaba Township that would be raised by the millage, DATA would be eligible to receive state and federal matches that would bring in another $58,253.07 from Wells Township and $25,626 from Escanaba Township.
State funding for public transportation is collected from fuel taxes, however, the money is only released through a matching program. To receive the funds, DATA must first raise funds of its own.
"The way that we bring those funds back to Delta County is to raise that match to show we have support from the community," said Stapleton.
If DATA could not raise the funds they would be unable to collect state assistance, and gas taxes collected locally would be distributed to public transportation services in other parts of the state. Unless an entity such as a city opted to support DATA independently, the bus service must raise their match either through a millage or through fundraising - something Stapleton sees as a daunting task.
"That would be very difficult to (fundraise) because it takes a lot of hands to raise that kind of money," said Stapleton.
If the millages pass, residents in those townships who use the bus services can expect to pay less in fares. With the exception of pre-school children and personal care assistants - who ride free when riding with a fare-paying adult or with the person they are caring for - the cost of riding a DATA bus is doubled for residents of non-millage paying areas.