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by Kim Gallagher
Thursday, January 18, 2024

CASS COUNTY, Mich.-- Proper funding for the county's public transportation system is likely going away, and now it's up to voters at the ballot box, if they would support a millage to keep the service going.

In more rural communities, like Cass County, services like Uber or taxi cabs aren't available. So those without cars, those with disabilities, and the elderly must rely on public transportation. This affects Mary Cathleen Jones, an 80-year-old woman in Edwardsburg.

About five years ago, she started to lose her sight and made the hard decision to give up her driver's license. Now, she relies on Cass County Public Transportation.

"It opened up a whole world for me, with public transportation, that if it had not been for Cass County transit, then I would be stuck, home, alone, most of the time," she said.

The Executive Director of Cass County Public Transportation, Gerry Bundle, said the county is considered a transportation desert.

Funding is primarily through federal and state programs, but with COVID recovery money drying up, Cass County Public Transportation will lose nearly half of its federal assistance in the coming fiscal year.

Additionally, local contractors normally fill the funding gaps, but as they see lower demand, those subsidies are no longer available.

Still, Cass County Public Transportation serves about 6,000 people, and right now its financial future is in jeopardy.

They are one of the few public transportation services in the state to not have regular local taxpayer support, so they are proposing a millage, an extra tax, to keep the services going.

"The most vulnerable, most marginalized people in the community. In addition, those who are under-resourced and don't have the resources to have their own transportation, but still need to get to the grocery store, they still need to get to the pharmacy," Bundle said. "They still need to get to medical appointments. So those are the people we serve, the most vulnerable in the community."

If the millage passes, they could not only maintain but expand their services. If the millage does not pass, they will either have to drastically cut back on service or end service altogether.

The issue will be on the primary election ballot on February 27.

The millage would add an extra $25 per $100,000 of taxable property value per household per year.