I drove a friend to the Brighton Meijer parking lot on a recent Saturday morning so she could catch a ride to Detroit Metro Airport on the Michigan Flyer.
The transportation service — which began as a result of work done by Livingston County’s Transportation Coalition — dropped her off at her airport terminal for the very reasonable price of $22, and her fare included wi-fi and electronic charging ports on board.
The Michigan Flyer service was identified as the highest priority in Livingston County’s recently completed Transit Master Plan, the result of a lot of work and public meetings, and it’s great to see it put into service.
I was planning to write an attaboy piece about the service; how it’s gaining steady buzz throughout the community, one satisfied rider after another; and what a good decision it was on the part of the Livingston County Board of Commissioners to put it into motion.
But then those wacky commissioners did a head-scratching thing.
They put the brakes on the funding mechanism to implement its full transportation plan.
I have to back up a bit to paint a fuller picture for you.
The transportation master plan recommendations — approved unanimously by the commissioners — include constructing a passenger hub where it’s most needed: somewhere in the Brighton area. (I am guessing it would be somewhere in the “golden triangle” of the area bounded by U.S. 23, I-96, and M-59.)
Buildings don’t just appear, and construction costs money, as do more buses and drivers and routes. Services aren’t free.
Just so we remain on the same page, our commissioners:
1. Commissioned the study to create the master plan.
2. Unanimously gave the findings of the study big thumbs up.
3. Implemented some of the recommendations of the master plan — including the express bus from Brighton to Metro Airport — that were high priority and fit within its budget.
And yet — except for one commissioner — the board members won’t talk about how to achieve the rest of the plan.
They had a chance to talk about it at the Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, meeting of the board’s General Government and Health and Human Services Committee.
On the agenda was a resolution to put a 0.23 mill levy before Livingston County voters in August 2020 to fund implementation of the transportation plan.
After Commissioner Gary Childs moved to discuss the resolution, not one of his fellow commissioners seconded it.
Not a one.
And so, for lack of that second, the motion died.
Pat Convery, the retired president of the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce who also served on the Transportation Coalition, said that the non-vote was an insult.
“This is a huge disappointment for me,” Convery said. “I’ve worked in transportation issues that would benefit businesses and the general public. … Transportation is one of the biggest reasons companies are hard-pressed to fill open jobs. And there are many.”
We might want to think about transportation like we do the Spencer J. Hardy Airport.
It’s likely that less than 1 percent of us use the airport, but the county maintains it because it’s an investment in our community. An assessment in 1994 said the airport’s benefits to the general community would be $1.5 million in direct economic impacts, and over $25.1 million in total economic benefits.
The county maintains that there are additional community benefits in law enforcement, emergency medical transportation — It’s home to the University of Michigan Health System’s Survival Flight — and career training for future aeronautical careers.
And yet, how many of us use the airport? But we pay about $1.5 million a year to maintain it because it’s an investment in the health of our community. (You can check out the county budget here.)
Transportation is just like that. We may not use it, but it has great benefits to the county, including its employers. Increasing transportation options has been a goal of the community since at least the Advantage Livingston report was produced in 2010, when the community was reeling from the Great Recession.
Today, nearly a decade later, it appears that some are finding it hard to distinguish between what is wasteful spending, useless taxation, and community investment.
Others do the political equivalent of mixing their metaphors. Or motives.
Prior to the meeting, an alert went out from the Livingston County Republican Party. The alert had a headline screaming: Do You Want to Pay More Taxes in Livingston County for Public Transportation to Ann Arbor? (Or did it mean, The People’s Republic of Ann Arbor?)
And the alert went on to say: “Remember back in September when Gary Childs announced that after serving as a Republican Commissioner for years he was leaving our party and becoming a Democrat? After voting against the resolution to prohibit the use of county tax dollars to pay for abortions, Commissioner Childs (D-Green Oak) is now introducing a resolution to raise our taxes!”
Oh, the horror!
You need to understand that Gary Childs didn’t pull a 0.23 millage request out of a hat.
It’s the amount the transportation plan — commissioned and unanimously adopted by the Livingston County Board of Commissioners — recommends for full implementation.
That 0.23 mill would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $23 a year; and the owner of a $300,000 home about $35 a year. In its first year, it would raise $2.15 million.
If voters approved it — and there’s no guarantee that they would — Livingston County would still retain its coveted lowest-tax-rate-among-Michigan-counties ranking.
What Childs really did was dare to disagree with the Livingston County Republican Party. Then he had the audacity to switch parties, and now he’s just what some Republicans call a Demoncrat (or Demonrat) being punished.
A big part of his punishment is shunning by his former people.
Now, I don’t much care who the Republicans shun or embrace. The Democrats, too, for that matter. The parties have their good points, and their bad. But this is different; it feels like things are getting real mean, real fast.
This is when I care. I really care about when either party’s actions get in the way of good government.
Differences of opinion are good things. Different ideas are good things. Dialog is a good thing.
I’d love to see the commissioners push politics aside and spare the people of Livingston County all this political drama and intrigue.
Before it drew its last breath, the motion got some attention during what sounded like a spirited call to the public.
A survey of my sources peg the number of those speaking in favor of the millage — and I have to remind you that the action on Monday would have just put the proposal up for discussion — outnumbered those against by a margin of approximately 2-to-1.
One of the comments my sources cited most from the meeting’s call to the public was a jaw-dropper from Dale Brewer of Green Oak Township, who doesn’t seem to have much faith in the brainpower of Livingston County’s residents. He said “I don’t think the public will understand what they’re voting for or what they’re looking at.”
A lot of people at the meeting were taken aback by that comment. After I confirmed it, I contacted Brewer to ask him about it. He said he was busy at the moment and that he’d “try to get back later.”
I’m still waiting.
Whether you’re for or against increasing transportation in Livingston County — there are arguments on both sides, for sure — who the hell are the commissioners to decide that they know better than you and me, and that we shouldn’t be able to decide for ourselves?