SMART millage recount ends with proposal still passing in Macomb County

Recount only saw 3 votes change with 75 percent completed

By: Joshua Gordon | C&G Newspapers | Published August 30, 2018

 The passage of the SMART millage proposal in Macomb County stands after a recount only yielded a change in three votes, not enough to cover the 39-vote difference from the Aug. 7 primary election.

The passage of the SMART millage proposal in Macomb County stands after a recount only yielded a change in three votes, not enough to cover the 39-vote difference from the Aug. 7 primary election.

File photo by Deb Jacques

MACOMB COUNTY — Service from the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation will continue in Macomb County after a request for a voter recount on the latest millage was withdrawn Aug. 29.

The Michigan Taxpayers Alliance filed for a recount on Aug. 21 after the SMART millage proposal passed in Macomb County by 39 votes during the Aug. 7 primary election. The proposal asked voters to approve a 1-mill property tax assessment to support SMART for the next four years.

Out of the roughly 155,000 total votes cast on the proposal, 77,500 were in favor, a number certified by the Macomb County Board of Canvassers Aug. 17. MTA filed to have a recount of 398 Macomb County precincts, including all election day ballots in Clinton Township and Shelby Township.

According to the MTA, it withdrew its request for the recount at 6:40 p.m. Aug. 29 after 75 percent of the recount only changed three votes. The recount was started the same day.

Leon Drolet, a Macomb County Commissioner and chair of the MTA, said SMART has seen dwindling support in the past three millage renewal elections, and combined with the Regional Transit Authority proposal defeat in Macomb County in 2016, it shows residents are paying attention despite the SMART millage passing this year.

"This incredibly close election shows Macomb citizens won't accept the status quo of expensive, empty buses much longer," Drolet said in a statement. "We missed a golden opportunity to help both taxpayers and those who need transit assistance by ditching the over-subsidized, under-used and inconvenient SMART bus system and replacing it with modern cost-effective alternatives.

"I am committed to work with Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel to find better ways to serve Macomb County's transit needs."

MTA paid a required $25 per-precinct fee, in addition to $25 for each absentee precinct, totaling $9,950.

Drolet and the MTA spoke out against the SMART millage in the lead up to the election, targeting residents in Macomb County to vote against it, stating the usage did not justify the cost. The millage proposal passed by a wide margin in both Oakland and Wayne counties.

The proposal is a renewal of the millage already in effect, but it slightly raises the rate in Macomb and Oakland counties because the rate has rolled back a small amount since the last renewal in 2014. In 2014, voters in all three counties approved an increase from 0.59 mills to 1 mill for SMART.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the first thing the recount did was prove that the Macomb County Clerk’s Office and all the city and township clerks did a great job in running the elections with only three votes changing.

Moving forward, Hackel said SMART needs to look at how to make the system more efficient and reach out to voters with their mission because the vote was so close and there were so many questions around the proposal.

All 27 communities in Macomb County are opted into the SMART system, while communities in Oakland and Wayne counties can opt out.

"There is this whole question of what is it that people aren't getting out of the system and what has to be done different with SMART," Hackel said. "It is not just say you are OK to go for the next four years, there has to be an internal assessment and see if people understand the value of what we are doing and make an effort to see how we do better and make it more efficient."

Heading into the election, MTA suggested that providing transit cards to people who need help with transportation would be a more efficient method than SMART. MTA proposed the cards being funded from current taxes paying 75 percent of the cost, and users paying the other 25 percent.

SMART General Manager John Hertel said the system has seen an 11-percent increase in ridership recently and they are thankful for the support in all three counties.

"We are thrilled to be able to get back to concentrating on doing what we do best, which is getting 70 percent of SMART riders to work and getting people with special needs and those who are unable to afford a car to the places they need to go," Hertel said in a statement.