ITP Board Tables Millage For A Month

April 28, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Supporters of a transportation millage increase crowded the Interurban Transit Partnership Board meeting last Wednesday, some toting “Up With Transit 1.0” balloons and “1.0 Is The Way To Go” placards.

Members of the public attending board meetings in the last few months have voiced support for a millage increase vs. a renewal of the current 0.75-mill rate and have pressed the board to expand service, as well.

Fear of service cuts down the road appears to be fueling their push to secure more funding now. Meanwhile, the ITP is struggling with a budget ailing from cuts in state funding that have contributed to a $875,000 budget deficit for fiscal 2003.

Board members were still not satisfied last week that they had enough information to determine whether it would take a millage renewal or a slight millage increase — possibly to a levy of 0.9833 — to sustain existing service levels.

And if the board agrees a millage hike is necessary, there’s still the question of when the proposal needs to go to voters — in this November’s general election, or in a special election in 2004 or 2005?

“I think there’s a certainty around this table that we are all in favor of keeping the momentum with regard to the ITP and The Rapid moving forward, making transit better in this region,” said Finance Committee Chairman Sharon Brinks.

“Whatever decision we need to make, we need to make it and present it with hard, cold data and facts behind it. My committee feels, I think, that we are still short on facts. We’d like specific facts with regard to if we remain at 0.75, specifically what services would be cut — because that’s a very powerful argument for not remaining at 0.75.”

Board member Tom Guinther said he wanted “enough due diligence” to assure all the potential issues that could come up during the budget process and that directly affect the millage necessary to maintain services levels had been identified, so there’s no worry that a year from now the millage issue will come back to haunt the board.

Walker Mayor Rob VerHuelen said Walker city commissioners feel that any proposed millage should not exceed 0.1 mills.

“My sense from the commission is that we are very supportive. I agree we need to secure unity around this table. We’re prepared to compromise in the interest of unity, but we truly feel that the system is not where it ought to be.”

There’s a consensus that enhanced services are an obligation, added Walker City Commissioner Barbara Holt.

Mayor John Logie suggested the possibility of asking voters for an increase in the millage with the stipulation that if state aid returns, the millage would be reduced. The idea was generally well received.

ITP Chairman George Heartwell said the board wants to have “outspoken support” from officials of each of ITP’s six partner cities before moving on the millage issue.

The board tabled the discussion until its next meeting on May 28.      

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