2017-04-27 / Life in Leelanau

BATA millage increase will go before voters on Tuesday

By Amy Hubbell
Of The Enterprise staff


TOWNSHIP CLERKS and other officials gathered in the lower level community meeting room of the Leelanau County Government Center on Tuesday morning to conduct a “public accuracy test” of voting machines to be used in the May 2 election. TOWNSHIP CLERKS and other officials gathered in the lower level community meeting room of the Leelanau County Government Center on Tuesday morning to conduct a “public accuracy test” of voting machines to be used in the May 2 election. Leelanau County voters will go to the polls Tuesday to have their say on a proposal from the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) to increase its property tax rate by 45 percent.

BATA is asked voters to approve a .5-mill levy through 2022. The agency’s current levy of .3347 mills, rolled back from .35 miles, will expire on Dec. 31, 2017.

Users interviewed who depend on BATA for transportation have mixed emotions going to the polls.

Kasson Township resident Judy Willey’s eighth grade son, R. Jay, takes BATA to Traverse City for classes at the Greenspire School and to dance as part of the Dance Center Youth Ensemble.

“It is reliable, and in my opinion, safe,” Willey said. “I’d hate to see the millage defeated.”

She supports the millage proposal that plays an important part in the lives of users who, in addition to students, include the elderly and the needy.

“Since we have been using BATA to get him to school, we began using it other times, too — to save on gas,” Willey said. “I wish we would have figured it out sooner ... More people should take advantage of it and we as a society should support those who need the service. It’s the right thing to do.”

Longtime BATA user Briana Walters of Lake Leelanau has a medical condition that doesn’t allow her to drive. She will support the millage, albeit reluctantly because of changes made to the service since she began riding the bus in 2005 at age 16.

“They need to change without asking for more money,” she said.

For several years, Walters would use BATA to get to classes at Northwestern Michigan College and to doctor appointments in Suttons Bay and Traverse City.

“They used to run from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. five days a week,” Walters said. “But in 2014, I got a call from dispatch that they wouldn’t be picking up people without two weeks notice.

“It’s disappointing.”

Walters, who isn’t currently working, said she’d love to get back in the workforce. But she doesn’t see that happening unless transportation service goes back to what it once was.

Currently, county users have two BATA bus options, the Village Loop and Village Link programs.

Two “loop” routes are in place in Leelanau. The Eastern loop carries riders to and from Traverse City and Northport with stops in between. The Traverse City to Empire loop provides stops in Maple City and Glen Arbor.

According to BATA communications director Eric Lingaur, the loops recorded 24,190 riders last year. Route 10, which follows the east shore of the county, was the busiest with 15,606 rides in 2016. The route from Traverse City to Empire provided 8,584 rides.

BATA conducted a needs assessment in 2016 and received input from 700 people in the two-county area about the services they’d like to receive.

In Leelanau County, respondents made a specific request.

Just this month BATA, along with Leelanau County Senior Services, began a new service tailored toward seniors and persons with disabilities. The Leelanau Wellness program offers door-to-door transportation service for residents for health and wellness trips to and from Traverse City.

The program was started with “2 Percent” gaming funds from the Grand Traverse Bay of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the program offers seniors (60 and older) door-to-door service to Tom’s West Bay, Munson Medical Center and Copper Ridge Medical Clinic, among others.

The millage request will also go before voters in Grand Traverse County. The higher millage rate doesn’t have to pass in both communities to be billed. Instead, the election outcome rests on the total of votes cast in Grand Traverse and Leelanau.

If approved, property owners currently paying $34 a year for a home with a taxable value of $10,000 would see a $16 increase in taxes paid.

If approved the millage will raise $3.6 million in 2018.

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