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Local Elections 2012: Walker Yes talks about transportation proposal

Walker Yes answered some tough questions to help our local citizens understand the City of Walker Proposal for Withdrawal from Interurban Transit Partnership.
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/Courtesy of Walker Yes

Our politics beat asked Walker Yes some questions for our Rapidian readers. We hope they help you to get informed about some of the issues surrounding the City of Walker Proposal for Withdrawal from Interurban Transit Partnership. See below the questions and the answers provided by their chair Ben Reisterer.

Our politics beat asked Friends of Transit the same set of questions. See their responses here.

Can you please tell us about this proposal?

Walker Yes: “If this passes on Nov. 6th it would withdraw Walker from membership status in the Interurban Transit Partnership (ITP), which would end their unelected board’s taxing authority in Walker. This would allow Walker to contract for services directly like many other communities (i.e. Alpine Township) and which was proposed and rejected in Hudsonville in May.”

Is it important to keep the current transit system in place?

WY: "Mass transit is important to keep in place and we affirm the value of reliable transit options for all individuals regardless of age, ability, socioeconomic status, etc. We also understand that the ability to move from community to community is beneficial for all.

However, the current system is not designed for the free flow of individuals across all member communities. It is designed to flow all people, money, and tax dollars into the city of Grand Rapids. The idea that all our communities are connected through the Rapid is suspect, as it is more accurate to say all the communities are connected to Grand Rapids.

For example, Grandville and Walker share a border but there is no direct route between them...By having our own elected official’s contract for the routes and services we deem beneficial for our city, we believe we would be much better connected and served than what we are currently given by The ITP’s unelected board."

How would this proposal affect Walker?

WY: “1. After the current millage expires, it would be a property tax cut for Walker property owners (business and residential).

2. It would restore our voice back. Currently, whenever the ITP wants to pass a millage they put it up for a vote across all six member cities.

However, these proposals disproportionately fund service increases and projects in downtown Grand Rapids...The last millage passed by less than one half of one percent, but two thirds of the member cities overwhelmingly voted against it.

Here in Walker, almost 70% of voters rejected the proposal, but we are still paying for it because Grand Rapids wanted it.

3. It would bring local control and accountability to the transit system in Walker. Currently, the ITP’s board is unelected.

Although it is true that less than half of their board members hold elected office unrelated to the Rapid, none of them were elected to sit on this board. In fact, the ITP is the only governing body in all of Kent County that has the ability to try to raise taxes without any directly elected representation.

4. It would also get Walker off the hook for paying for services that do not benefit us. Currently, operating costs for the three routes we pay for in Walker are less than $800,000 per year.

The Silver Line bus system which covers less than 10 miles of Division Avenue will have an annual operating cost of $2 million. That one route costs more than twice as much to operate than all the routes in Walker, and we are helping to pay for that through increased taxes even though it comes nowhere near our city."

What does an informed voter need to know about this proposal?

WY: "1. Contrary to what the proponents of a “no” vote have been saying, buses will not go away in Walker if this passes. State law is very clear in that we will continue to pay the tax and the ITP will continue to provide the service as is until the current millage expires in 2018.

2. If the city of Walker decided through its directly elected representatives that bus services were needed past the current millage, our elected officials will have until 2018 to plan.

We have pointed out that in 2018 the Walker Ice and Fitness Center bonds are paid off. This frees up over $670,000 per year from the general fund that could be used as a starting point toward funding bus services in Walker. City officials have also confirmed that there are currently no plans for this money, so it is available to be used.

3. Currently, other communities (like our neighboring Alpine Township) contract out with the ITP for about $64 per service hour. This was also about the same rate that the ITP was offering to Hudsonville before they overwhelmingly rejected the offer in May.

If we applied that same rate to Walker, services would cost us around $800,000 per year instead of the $1.4 million per year we spend now.

4. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 222 Walker residents use public transportation to get to work. Additionally, the ITP says that 80% of all riders use their buses to get to work. According to these numbers, this means that 278 Walker residents are using public transportation.

Given the fact that we pay about $1.4 million per year to the ITP, we believe we can help take care of our 278 neighbors in a much more cost effective, accountable, and fiscally responsible manner.

5. The ITP has a half a billion dollar master plan which includes expensive and unneeded (although admittedly cool) projects like a second “Bus Rapid Transit” line (i.e. Silver Line) and trolley cars for downtown Grand Rapids.

6. There is no guarantee that the ITP will continue past the current millage regardless of what happens in Walker on Nov. 6th. Their millage them until 2018, which means that before then they will have to pass another millage.

Given their master plan, it is likely to be a significant tax increase. Furthermore, since the last millage passed by only 136 votes, there is no guaranteeing that the next one will pass.

If one is not passed, the ITP will not have the required support to continue to get State and Federal funding to continue services.

7. The ITP millage rate has gone up 96% since its inception in 2000."

What do you think of the broader Grand Rapid transit system? Who does it serve? What are the strengths, and where does it need to improve?

WY: "We think the current system is great for Grand Rapids, but not as much for the other cities. It brings all people into Grand Rapids as well as the other cities tax dollars to subsidize unneeded and expensive projects like the Silver Line.

The ITP could be improved by having its board be directly elected. They could also improve by listening more to the needs and concerns of the cities other than Grand Rapids. Walker residents have been complaining for years about the Alpine route to no avail.

There have also been many calls for additional stops to be added outside of city hall over the last several years. Those concerns were ignored until right after this proposal was placed on the ballot, and then the ITP announced that they would add the stops that people have been asking for."

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