GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The big races on West Michigan ballots Tuesday included a number of operating millages, as well as elections for city leaders in both Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
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Voters in Grand Rapids approved an operating millage for the Grand Rapids Public Library. That measure passed with 71 percent of the vote. In 1997, voters approved a millage that funded brick-and-mortar library projects. That millage ran out this year. The new millage is for the same amount, but the money it yields will support general operations, including more digital projects and literacy programs for children.
“It’s going to go to train little people and literacy skills and it’s going to go towards electronic downloads and all kinds of new material for the public whatever format comes along next,” Marcia Warner, the director of the library, said.
Voters in metro Grand Rapids agreed to renew the Rapid bus service‘s operating millage for another 12 years. That measure passed with 61 percent of the vote.
“This is about 35 percent of our operating budget,” Rapid CEO Peter Varga said. “But what really happens here is it allows us to provide service, which means we get fares and with all of those extra funds, we can leverage state operating assistance, so it ends up being about 75 percent of our revenue actually in a year.”
Of the six cities whose citizens pay the millage, Walker was the only one to vote it down. Regardless, they will have to pay the tax because the millage passed.
The renewal of an operating millage for Grand Rapids Public Schools also passed with 71 percent of the vote. The 18 mills apply to businesses and second homes within the district, not primary residences. The millage makes up more than $30 million of the district’s budget.
Grand Rapids City Commissioner Senita Lenear won re-election in the 3rd Ward, winning 66 percent of the vote.
In Kalamazoo, Mayor Bobby Hopewell declared victory after results showed a landslide victory over write-in candidates. His re-election sets the record for the consecutive number of years someone has been mayor of that city. Hopewell has been mayor since 2007 and, after his win, will serve another two years.
“For me, it’s always been about serving Kalamazoo,” Hopewell said. “It’s always been about what we can do together. It’s never been about me and this office.”
Incumbent Kalamazoo City Commissioners Erin Knott and Jack Urban earned re-election. Eric Cunningham, who was previously appointed to the commission but then lost his seat, was voted back onto the commission. Knott will serve the vice mayor for the next two years after she received the most votes among city commission candidates.
In Ferrysburg, voter rejected a new millage that would have raised money to repair Smith’s Bayou Bridge. Sixty-three percent of voters said no to the new tax. Ferrysburg voters also overwhelmingly approved a charter amendment that will require a public vote before the city can sell any park property. That measure passed with 81 percent of voters saying yes. That second ballot proposal came about because officials had considered selling some park property to fund bridge repairs. Without the millage and with the city now unable to cell the park property, it’s unclear how or if the city will be able to come up with the about $11.5 million needed to repair the bridge.
Voters in Muskegon County rejected a millage proposal that would have funded programs for youths and families. Sixty-nine percent of voters said no.
TRACKING THE ELECTION IN GRAND RAPIDS
New this year, you could track Grand Rapids’ voter turnout online throughout the day. Turnout was about 15 percent.
Additionally, results came in, new technology allowed you to follow the numbers down to the precinct.
Grand Rapids City Clerk Darlene O’Neal said she was excited about the increased transparency.
“In the past, if you went to the city clerk’s website or watched the results on channel 26, you could see results, but you could only see the results on a citywide basis, not the precinct-by-precinct basis or the precinct-by-precinct level. Whereas here, you can actually see how well a proposal did or did not do by precinct,” O’Neal said. “We’ve been listening to the community. The community wants to know and they like information clear, concise, but they like it fast. We’re trying to be transparent, but we’re trying to be responsive.”
NEW ELECTION EQUIPMENT
Eight West Michigan counties used this election to roll out new voting equipment.
In many ways, the machines are like the old ones: Voters filled out their ballot and fed it in. But the new machines can notify you if there’s a mistake and there is a touch-screen option to aid voters with disabilities. The machines also get results to county clerks faster.
“The process is the same. The only thing that’s changed is the election equipment,” O’Neal, the Grand Rapids city clerk, said. “It’s just as secure. Around the presidential election, there was much concern about fraud or tampering, things like that, but it wasn’t my concern then; it’s not my concern now.”
Voters in Kent, Kalamazoo, Mecosta, Newaygo, Calhoun, Branch, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties sawa the new machines for the first time Tuesday. Kalamazoo and Kent counties reported no major problems.
Five more West Michigan counties will put new equipment into use next year.
–24 Hour News 8’s Joe LaFurgey and Brady Gillum contributed to this report.