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Bloomfield Hills to hear SMART presentation

City commissioners square off over bus service

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published May 23, 2015

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — During its regular meeting June 9, the Bloomfield Hills City Commission is expected to hear a presentation from representatives of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation.

The idea was discussed at the commission’s last meeting, May 12, when Commissioner Patricia Hardy suggested that the city invite the bus service provider to the meeting to explain what services could potentially be available to residents. She, Mayor Michael Dul and City Manager Jay Cravens had previously met with SMART to discuss the topic, but Hardy said she felt it would be beneficial for all the commissioners to hear the information.

Commissioner Sarah McClure disagreed, explaining that she doesn’t think the commission needs to be subjected to a sales pitch.

“I feel I’m knowledgeable on this and I don’t think that’s necessary,” she said during the meeting. “We know what the cost is — the cost is 1 mill — which is approximately $750,000, which would be about 10 percent of our general fund budget.”

McClure added that the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan — an agency created to coordinate mass transit in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties — is expected to come to voters with a millage request in November 2016. While she acknowledged that the RTA and SMART would serve different needs, she said residents will start to be concerned about how much tax money is being devoted to transit.

“Personally, I think there’s a lot of transit issues, and with the roads in the shape they’re in, are people going to say this is where they want to put their money?” McClure asked.

Hardy, on the other hand, said there’s no harm in inviting SMART representatives to explain their options and possibly move forward with gauging how the community feels with getting SMART bus services via a ballot initiative.

“This isn’t just how Sarah McClure feels or Stuart Sherr or Mike Dul or Pat Hardy or Mike Coakley. This is really an issue that our residents should be able to be aware of. At least they know this is something we’ve given some thought to. You may know a great deal on all there is to know about SMART, but I don’t think so,” Hardy said. “I think by hearing what these representatives have to say, (it) shows the community we are doing our duty to at least examine an idea.”

Hardy admitted that she would like to see a SMART bus proposal go on a future ballot, explaining that the city’s population is aging and could benefit from bus services or other SMART options, like Dial-a-Ride. She clarified that funding would not come from the general fund but a millage, and added that younger generations are also in favor of mass transit options and the RTA is “a long way off.”

The commissioners continued to go back and forth on whether the SMART visit would be fruitful.

“I just have a hard time (believing) that our residents, for three quarters of a million dollars, would want to pay for that, for SMART right now,” said McClure.

“They’re not here selling us anything,” replied Hardy.

“Of course they are,” McClure responded.

Dul piped in by saying he would like to, instead of focusing solely on the money, ask first what services SMART could offer Bloomfield Hills residents.

Sherr, seeming to be the tiebreaker, opted to hear the representatives out.

“On the surface, I agree with Sarah. But if Pat wants to invite these individuals to come talk with us, what’s the cost of doing that? The time to say what they have to say,” Sherr said. “Yes, Pat, they are trying to sell something, but that’s OK. Knowledge is a good thing. I don’t see how listening could hurt.”

The conversation ended with the commission agreeing to invite SMART Oakland County Ombudsman Madonna Van Foffen and SMART Director of Administration Robert Cramer to the June meeting, though McClure and Sherr reluctantly said they won’t want to be lured into a “forced march.”

Dul said last week that the two had been formally invited and are expected to accept, though he plans to follow up with a phone call. He added that while he can see the benefits of transit service, particularly for seniors, he’s looking forward to getting residents’ input.

“We’re kind of known as the hole in the doughnut. We’re just not on the radar for buses,” said Dul. “The obvious (option) is buses, but what other services does SMART offer?”

Bloomfield Hills is the only community in the Eagle’s readership not served by SMART.

The Eagle reached out to the RTA of Southeast Michigan, but requests for comment weren’t returned by press time.