Dexter Township is the latest municipality in western Washtenaw County to opt out of a new five-year countywide transit authority known as The Washtenaw Ride.
The township board voted 6-0 with Trustee Steve Feinman absent to pass an opt-out resolution on Tuesday, citing costs and the inability to bring the plan to a vote among township residents before the 30-day deadline set by the Ann Arbor Transit Authority.
"I think enhancing public transportation in the county is a good thing. It's one of those services whose value you don't really know until you need to use it," Trustee Jason Maciejewski said. "Joining the AATA is a difficult question. If it were up to me and I was at the ballot box, I'd vote for it. But because we can't bring this to our voters, I am voting to opt out."
Township Supervisor Pat Kelly said if the township joins the authority, township residents could see a 0.584-mill countywide transit tax on the ballot as early as May 2013 in order to raise about $7.7 million to fund the transit plan in its first year of operation.
AATA officials estimate the countywide assessment would cost the owner of a $200,000 home an additional $58 per year, which they argue is about the same as a tank of gas.
"In my opinion, we would be asking our residents to pay a lot more for a service they already use without having much more benefits," Kelly said.
The township currently pays an annual $5,000 stipend to the Washtenaw Area Value Express (WAVE) bus service for public transportation throughout the county. WAVE operates a demand response service, a special trip bus, and a fixed route service that links the city of Chelsea with the village of Dexter and the city of Ann Arbor.
Prior to the vote, Clerk Harley Rider inquired whether WAVE would be able to maintain its level of door-to-door services to residents if the township opted out of the regional authority.
"What kind of annual costs could there be? Granted we don't fund the whole cost right now, but I'd like to know what the difference would be between staying in or opting out," he said.
Michael Benham, AATA's special assistant for strategic planning, said even if the township does not join The Washtenaw Ride, WAVE services will remain virtually unchanged for residents. The township may have to increase its contribution to WAVE, however, if larger municipalities such as the city of Chelsea and the village of Dexter, who together contribute roughly $50,000 to WAVE, opt to join the countywide transit authority.
"I would expect we would have to pay more to the tune of $20,000 to $25,000," Kelly said after the meeting. "That's still less than what we'd pay if we joined the countywide transit authority."
Kelly said the resolution does not exclude the township from joining the AATA in the future.
"This is a five-year decision, not a forever decision. If the time is right, we can come back in later," she said. "I think it's important to ask residents either through a vote or a survey if they'd want Dexter Township to join."
Eight townships — Bridgewater, Augusta, Manchester, Northfield, Salem, Saline, Sharon and Sylvan — already have chosen not to participate.