Crawford County voters will decide a millage proposal on the Aug. 7 primary election ballot to keep the Crawford County Transportation Authority buses rolling. A .25 mill request to increase funding for the transportation system, better known as Dial-A-Ride, will be on the ballot. If approved by voters, the tax would be levied from 2018 to 2020. Currently, .7027 of a mill is levied to garner $403,000 in operating costs for the transportation system.
Julee Dean, the executive director for the Crawford County Transportation Authority, said the agency simply needs more money to replace buses. In 2009, President Barack Obama and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to try to help the national overcome an economic recession. A large lump of funding was allocated to the Michigan Department of Transportation, which in turn passed the money down to 87 transit agencies located throughout the state.
“At that point, we were all desperate for buses, so they gave us their ARRA money and everybody got new buses,” Dean said. Now, those buses have high mileage on them, and it is costly to keep them running. “We just can’t wait,” Dean said regarding replacing the buses. “It’s costing us a fortune to keep them on the road.”
The Crawford County Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors has discussed adding weekend service for residents in the county. But a study of passengers’ needs will be done before any decisions are contemplated regarding expanding services. “We’re going to keep the weekend service and buses as two different issues, because we need the buses first and foremost,” Dean said. Between 5,500 to 6,000 passengers utilize Dial-A-Ride buses per month countywide. “We go everywhere,” Dean said. One-way fares of 50 cents are charged for senior citizens, the disabled, and children. Adults fares are $1.
Beyond transporting people to buy groceries, run errands, and get to medical appointments, Dial-A-Ride vans take residents Monday through Friday to the Cowell Family Cancer Center in Traverse City for treatments. Residents can also take the vans for mid-morning or overnight appointments at the Munson Medical Center in Traverse City. “A lot of people we’ve taken to the hospital, and a day or two later, we’ll bring them back and that is all free to them,” Dean said.
Transportation is also provided to and from the Dialysis Services of Gaylord on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. “We pick them up and bring them back home,” Dean said. Since all 16 buses in the transportation system’s fleet are equipped with wheelchair lifts, residents in nursing home are transported on the buses. “We do several runs a week to get them to their doctors’ appointments,” Dean said.
If voters approve the millage, it would bring in about $130,000 in additional funding for the transportation system. A bus costs between $175,000 and $200,000.
The overall funding for the transportation authority is $1.6 million per year, with federal and state funding coming in to supplement the budget. Some of those funds would be used to help purchase the buses.
Since the Crawford County Transportation System was founded in 1976, the agency has never asked for a funding increase; however, the millage the agency collects has been rolled back due to the state’s Headleee Amendment, which requires millage rates to be reduced to account for inflation. When both millage rates are up for renewal in 2020, they will be combined into one funding proposal to fund transportation services. “We have never asked for an increase, and if we could get close to a mill, it would be just so helpful,” Dean said.
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