Vote on Data millage nears

ESCANABA – On Aug. 6, residents in Wells and Escanaba townships will have an opportunity to help decide the future of public transit by voting on millages that would support the Delta Area Transit Authority.

Under the proposed millages, residents of both townships would be taxed 0.5 mills, or 50 cents on each $1,000 of state taxable value, on all property for a period of five years. The millages would continue from 2013 to 2017, inclusive, for the purpose of operational funding for public transportation services.

Between the two townships, the millages would raise $168,020.64 for DATA, with $117,035.59 coming from Wells Township and $50,985 coming from Escanaba Township.

State and federal funding for public transportation is tied to local contributions, with every dollar raised leading to a one dollar match in government funding. Because of this, DATA would receive another $168,020.64 for Wells and Escanaba townships on top of the funding raised by the millages themselves.

“That’s just the way they were set up years ago,” said John Stapleton. “It makes the local communities have some buy-in.”

Funds raised by the millages would be added to funds currently raised by Escanaba and Gladstone. Currently, Gladstone and the city of Escanaba pay 0.6 mills, or 60 cents per $1,000 of state taxable value, to support DATA.

“We’re looking at a little bit of a reduced rate (for Wells and Escanaba townships),” said Stapleton.

Between the cities of Escanaba and Gladstone, DATA makes roughly 130,000 trips a year. However, because the townships are not currently supporting DATA through a millage, township residents can only receive rides on DATA buses when they are located along routes already in use by Gladstone or Escanaba residents.

“The name (Delta Area Transit Authority) isn’t really accurate because it isn’t a county-run system. We just service the two cities,” said Stapleton, noting transportation systems surrounding Delta County are run at the county level and operate using county millages.

In addition to only receiving limited access to DATA’s transportation services, township residents are charged double the cost that Gladstone and Escanaba residents are charged because the townships are not contributing to the program’s funding through taxes.

DATA plans to use the funds raised by the millages to introduce van services to the townships. Residents who required these services would be able to call DATA directly and schedule a ride similar to a taxi service.

“We’re going to put it to the voters and if they want van service, kind of like a taxi, they can vote for it,” said Stapleton.

All vehicles operated by DATA are equipped with wheelchair lifts and are capable of transporting people with mobility impairments – including those that use wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers.

According to Stapleton, DATA intends to add transportation coverage to more areas the future. However, some locations, such as Garden or Nahma, may receive one day a week coverage that would transport residents to and from other locations in the county.

“Our hope down the road would be to service all the locations in Delta County,” said Stapleton.