A group of Macomb County residents is asking voters to not support the SMART millage renewal during the primary election.

A group of Macomb County residents is asking voters to not support the SMART millage renewal during the primary election.

File photo by Deb Jacques


Macomb County group asking voters to not support SMART millage in August

By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published July 11, 2018

 John Hertel, General Manager of SMART, said not supporting support would affect seniors, people with disabilities, workers and businesses. Hertel is shown here talking about the millage at a May press conference in Shelby Township.

John Hertel, General Manager of SMART, said not supporting support would affect seniors, people with disabilities, workers and businesses. Hertel is shown here talking about the millage at a May press conference in Shelby Township.

File photo by Deb Jacques

MACOMB COUNTY — A group in Macomb County, led by County Commissioner Leon Drolet, is asking voters to vote against the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation millage renewal during the Aug. 7 primary election.

SMART, along with Macomb and Oakland county officials, announced the ballot proposal in May, which will ask voters in those counties, as well as Wayne County, to approve a 1 mill property tax assessment to support SMART for the next four years.

The proposal is a slight increase after the 1 mill that was approved in 2014 was rolled back to 0.9926 mills over the past four years. The SMART millage must be approved every four years.

However, Drolet said the SMART bus system is not used enough in Macomb County to justify the taxes used to support it, and the group, called Nothing Smart About SMART, feels there are more efficient ways to help seniors, the disabled and people without vehicles to get around. The group is supported by the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, which rallied against the 2016 regional tax proposal that did not get passed in Macomb or Oakland county.

“SMART is around and doing their thing and not interested in making any changes,” Drolet said. “The only way to force change is to point out how inefficient people’s money is being spent and that there is a better service to be provided using modern transit at a lower cost.”

Drolet cited data from the 2016 U.S. Census American Community Survey, which showed that only 3,113 Macomb County workers that are 16 or older used public transportation to get to work. That represents less than 1 percent of the total 409,482 workers in that range in Macomb County.

Drolet said he recognizes that SMART is also used by seniors and those with disabilities to get around, but for the amount of people who use SMART, the group believes the people who need SMART could be issued transit cards to use services such as Uber or Lyft, or a taxi.

The cards would be funded from current taxes, such as the gas tax, Drolet said, and the taxpayers would pay for 75 percent of the cards and the user would have to pay the other 25 percent.

“These services would eliminate the property tax and pick people up at their home and take them direct to their destination instead of waiting at bus stops or being dropped off in the rain,” Drolet said. “I went to a bus stop where buses are supposed to come every 15 minutes and then three pulled up an hour later. It is just unbelievable that we are paying for such a poor service, and the riders deserve better.”

Nothing Smart about SMART will target voters with mailed information, online advertisements and phone calls. Drolet said it is a battle because SMART spends so much money advertising on the radio and television.

SMART General Manager John Hertel said eliminating SMART would not only affect seniors, the disabled and workers, but businesses in the area.

“SMART has an unbroken commitment that we’ve kept with seniors and the disabled by providing the bus service they need to maintain their quality of life. Yet, the most significant part of our service is getting people to work,” Hertel said. “Everyday, 70 percent of our riders are going to work. Without SMART, the impact is negative all the way around.

“Not only would it negatively impact our riders, who would not be able to get to work, get paid and provide for their family, it would very negatively affect the businesses that our riders work for and severely impact the region’s economy.”

At a press conference on May 22 in Shelby Township, Hertel, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson talked about the SMART millage and how they wanted voters to know this was not related to the Regional Transit Authority proposal that was voted down in 2016.

That proposal would have leveraged 1.2 mills to add high-speed transportation between Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw counties. It was defeated in Macomb and Oakland counties, thus making the whole proposal fail.

Hackel said he has spoken with Drolet about issues with transportation taxes, but he feels that people are getting their money’s worth out of SMART and the voters have approved millage renewals in the past. Helping seniors, students and workers is important, he said, and why voters should vote for the SMART millage in August.

“Our senior population is growing and outpacing that of the younger population in Macomb County,” Hackel said. “SMART has proven to be one of the reliable transportation resources for seniors, who don’t have the ability to drive. And the service gets people to and from jobs and sometimes kids to and from college for educational experience. So there is a value.”