Michigan primary issues: Schools, Dial-A-Ride funds


Election officials don't expect many people to show up to the polls Tuesday, but if that's the case, Michiganders may miss out on key issues on the ballot.

Several school districts, including Niles, Coloma, Eau Claire and Decatur, are looking to renew their millages to provide millions of dollars in funding over the next 10 years.

Niles Community Schools gets about 10 percent of its general fund from the local millage. It is asking for 18 mills, plus .5 mill to use in case inflation increases and the schools need extra funds.

If approved, voters are agreeing to renew the tax of $18.50 for $1,000 of taxable property on non-homestead values. In other words, the tax will continue to be taken from commercial property, businesses, manufacturing and second homes as it has for decades.

Dr. Michael Lindley, interim superintendent for Niles schools, says he hopes voter turnout is not as low as some have projected.

"If parents and others that support the schools aren't getting out to the polls, then it's going to have a negative effect," he says.

Another issue on the ballot affects a relatively small number of people, but it could make a big difference in their lives.

The Niles and Buchanan Dial-A-Ride programs are also asking voters to renew their millages.

The Niles company is asking for a continuation of their half-mill tax, which would earn $97,000 a year for the next two years.

The Buchanan program is asking for a one-mill renewal, which would make nearly $85,000 a year for the next four years.

Both programs say tomorrow's vote is crucial.Chuck Leath drives the route bus for the Niles Dial-A-Ride program. He knows just about every single rider who gets on board by name.

"I love my customers, I have a lot of elderly people, you can't help but love them," Leath says.

In fact, three out of every four riders are senior citizens, or disabled, or both -- people who otherwise couldn't get around by themselves.

"All these elderly people would be out of luck," says Leath, on what would happen if the millage renewal did not pass.

The companies are hoping that luck hasn't run out yet.

"If the local millage were to go away, not only would we lose those funds, we'd also lose the ability to match some of the grant funding," says Evan Smith, general manager of Niles Dial-A-Ride.

He says the millage money accounts for about 15 percent of the Niles program's funding.

It's as much as 50 percent for Buchanan's company, according to president Kim O'Haver.

Both programs offer a reduced fare for handicapped and elderly riders.

"People call us up and they're shocked to hear that their loved one can get around, in some cases, for a dollar," Smith says.

Polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the 2014 Michigan primary election.