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July 30, 2003

Voters say yes to BATA

GT, Leelanau voter turnout was about 21.5%

Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - Two millage proposals for the Bay Area Transportation Authority were solidly approved by Grand Traverse and Leelanau voters Tuesday, saving the two-county bus system from potential extinction.
      "I think the people figured out that this meant that all the BATA service could be gone, and I think most people want public transit to be available," an elated Janet Wolf, chairwoman of the BATA Board, said Tuesday night. "People who get out there and ride the bus were afraid they were going to lose it, so they went out and worked to get this passed."
Record-Eagle/Meegan M. Reid
Pearl Faist and Dale Aurand cast their votes at the polling station at Central Grade School on Tuesday morning.
      A .25-mill restoration millage was passed by more than a 2-to-1 margin across the two counties, while a one-tenth mill request to expand the Cherriot fixed-route service was approved by a nearly 60 to 40 percent margin. The unofficial totals from the county clerk's offices were 11,232-4,608 on the first proposal, and 9,364-6,358 on the second. The voter turnout was some 21.5 percent across the two counties.
      Voters backing BATA said it was important for the Grand Traverse region to continue bolstering its support for the public bus system. Both proposals were supported in every township in Leelanau County, and BATA also received more support from the rural townships in Grand Traverse which doomed the BATA millage last fall.
      "We know a lot of people that use it because they don't have any other way to get around," said David Keeder, a west-side Traverse City resident. He and his wife, Marian, supported the proposals.
      "None of us wants more taxes, but we have to be selective about what we need," she said. "(BATA) means a lot to our community."
      But "no" voters continued questioning BATA's mass appeal and criticized it for using oversized equipment carrying what they say are too few passengers through the city's neighborhoods.
      "It's inefficient," said attorney Doug Donaldson, who lives and works in Traverse City. "If they spend the same amount of money, everybody could take a cab and go wherever they need to go."
      Based on the combined $4.6 billion taxable value of property in the two counties, the two levies will generate more than $1.16 million a year for BATA operations. The owner of a $100,000 property will pay around $17.50 per year for the BATA levy.
      BATA officials said it was a "make-or-break" vote for the agency after a .35-mill request last November was narrowly defeated by 1,350 votes. "We were much more aggressive in getting our message out during this campaign," BATA executive director Joe DeKoning said. "I think people knew what was at stake."
      The bus system won't start restoring service cuts or expanding bus routes until early next year, since the extra property tax revenue won't start coming in until after the Dec. 1 property tax bills go out. "We still have a lot to learn about where some of these new services should be," Wolf said.

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