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Pine River Township approves millage request for Dial-a-Ride; St. Louis, Ithaca may be next

By Ralph Echtinaw

Pine River Township approved ballot language Thursday for a millage to help fund the Alma Transit Center’s Dial-a-Ride service, but only if voters in St. Louis and Ithaca do the same.

Voters will be asked to approve the following in August:

“Shall Pine River Township impose an increase of up to 0.96 mill…and levy it for six years…for public transportation in Pine River Township…and provided that the same millage is approved by the voters and levied in the cities of St. Louis and Ithaca?”

St. Louis councilmen will decide on April 7 if they want to  put a similar millage request on the August ballot.

Alma Transit Center Director Brett Baublitz told councilmen Tuesday he is confident a millage request would pass based on results from a postcard survey that showed 62 out of 111 St. Louis residents, 97 of 199 Pine River Township residents and 78 of 140 Ithaca residents favor a millage to fund Dial-a-Ride.

The sample size, however, is small, as more than 1,800 postcard surveys were mailed and only 450 were returned.

Councilman George T. Kubin said via email that he will vote in favor of placing the millage on the August ballot.

Councilman William R. Leonard said he “will reserve comments on either question until I can read and digest the actual language put forth on the agenda.”

Mayor James C. Kelly and Councilman Roger L. Collison didn’t reply to this reporter’s email with the same question.

Councilman Thomas L. Reed has been absent from the last four meetings, so he wasn’t asked.

Although Ithaca hasn’t weighed in on this issue, Baublitz said councilmen there (and he’s one of them) are favorable to the idea.

The Alma Transit Center has 14 buses and five vans. Three new buses should be delivered within two months. and two new 14-passenger vans are on the way.

Ironically, the Chinese coronavirus situation has led Alma to  suspend Dial-a-Ride service for all but people who need rides to doctors or medical treatment.

The millage plan is likely more appealing to St Louis councilmen because the city has been contributing to Dial-a-Ride every year via the general fund. The amount was $5,000 in 2018 and $10,000 last year. If the millage passes that money could be spent elsewhere.

A millage of 0.96 would cost property owners 96 cents per $1,000 of taxable value of their homes. If your house’s taxable value is $50,000 you would pay $48 a year for Dial-a-Ride, if the millage passes in all three municipalities.

To find the taxable value of your house, take a look at the “Notice of Assessment, Taxable Valuation and Property Classification” that the city mails to you each year. Multiply that taxable value by 0.96 to see how much you would pay.

Pump station

It looks like work to replace the sanitary sewer pump station at Michigan Avenue and Cheesman Road will be more expensive than expected after replacement of a sewer line connecting the pump station to the Westgate subdivision was recommended by Spicer Group, a Saginaw civil engineering firm.

Council approved an amendment to the professional services agreement with Spicer, adding $27,500 to an agreement that was already at $66,750.

Public Services Director Keith Risdon told councilmen that the sewer line is 64 years old and “full of incrustations” that slow the flow of sewage.

Giles said the city will likely sell bonds to fund the project, expected to cost in the hundreds of thousands.

Risdon said bids could be let in summer with work beginning next year.

Rezoning

Council approved rezoning three parcels on the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Cheesman to multifamily residential, clearing the way for construction of apartments there.

Michigan Avenue drivers will recognize the corner as the location of Tacho’s, a restaurant that closed at least five years ago and has been vacant since.

Residents within 300 feet of the property were notified of a public hearing to consider rezoning, but only one person objected, Giles said.

“The last thing this neighborhood needs is a multifamily residence,” wrote Robin V. Findley of Whitney Place in a letter to the city.

No apartments or anything else are currently planned for that property, Giles said, although “some interest was shown by a developer for a higher density residential development.”

Councilman Kubin had another concern: “Is the project going to be another one where they come in and ask for a tax abatement?” he said.

“It may be,” Giles said. “It may not even be a project. So far we’ve not seen a site plan or anything.”

Bridge weight rating

Councilmen approved a plan to take a steel sample from the North Main bridge over the Pine River and have it analyzed in hope that it will prove to be strong enough to have weight restrictions on the bridge lifted.

“They can cut a small piece out of the web near the end of the span and have that tested and see how it compares with the assumed strength of that steel,” Giles said.

Risdon said he is confident that test will prove that steel is strong enough to remove weight limit. That would allow more heavy trucks to use the Main Street bridge and therefore stay out of downtown St. Louis.

Attendance

Councilman Tom Reed and Mayor Jim Kelly were absent.

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