Benzie Bus Turns to Voters for Millage Renewal

"Next Tuesday, on March 10th, the voters will be out voting for the renewal of Benzie Bus’ annual millage."

Voters in Benzie County will have some issues to decide on their ballot next week. In addition to the Democratic Primary, residents there will also be voting on a $3 surcharge to support 911; and a millage renewal for the Benzie Bus system.

Benzie Bus Renewal Web Image2Benzie Bus has a 22-bus fleet, including some retro-fitted minivans used for transporting passengers. Operating on a roughly $1.8 (M) million dollar budget, they’ve been running on a millage for the last 12 years. This ballot proposal is a renewal of existing funding, which runs out in 2021.

Executive Director Bill Kennis says, “It’s a millage renewal of .49 which is about $600,000. And that’s about 35% of our funding.”

Other funding comes from state and federal funding, grants, and money collected at the fare box from riders. “MDOT gives us about a third and between federal funding, grants, and the fare box, that’s the ‘third-third’ of how our operations are funded.”

Kennis says ridership has increased in recent years. “Riders needs have changed. Maybe you hear that millennials don’t want to drive so much, they want to rely on public trans. With schools of choice we have students that are moving around the county, and this is very much a regional operation.”

Over the past 12 years Benzie bus has given over 1 million rides. That includes 21,000 rides in and out of Traverse City and more than 275,000 rides to senior citizens. But all Benzie County residents will get to vote on the millage next week. Kennis says, “We had 108,000 rides last year which is a record. And over the last several years it’s been up over 30%. Transit in some areas is flat but our needs continue to grow.”Benzie Bus Renewal Web Image1

The senior center in Honor is one pickup spot, where we found several riders who say they depend on Benzie Bus. Darlene Knudsen says, “I ride the bus every day Monday through Friday. I love the bus because it’s very economical for people who can’t get out.” And James Cramer agrees. “If you didn’t have it how would you get around? It’s a good thing to have. Goes around everywhere you want to go. Just call and make a reservation.”

While voters will have to agree to continue their financial support, Kennis believes the Benzie Bus has been an economic support to the region as well. “For every dollar that spent on public transportation, about four dollars comes back to the community. They’re purchasing things, visiting doctor’s appointments, it’s not a social network, it’s an economic multiplier if you will.”

And now it’s up to voters to decide if they will continue be on board with this millage renewal.