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Transit funds may be restored Monday

Transit funds may be restored Monday

Councilman looks to offer resolution

April 14th, 2013 in News

The Jefferson City Council likely will take action Monday to restore funds to the city's transit division and avoid a midday break in service.

One councilman is working on a resolution to offer Monday night before the new council is sworn in that would restore the $55,000 needed to avoid a suspension of service.

The city held two public hearings last week on a proposed cut that would suspend service on both Jeff-Tran and Handi Wheels from 11:20 a.m.-2:40 p.m. each day. The proposed service suspension is part of a package of budget cuts approved last month to cover a $1.68 million shortfall for this fiscal year. The midday break would save the city $55,000 for the year.

Although the City Council already has approved the package of cuts, the city is required by federal regulations to hold public hearings before any change can be made to the transit schedule.

More than 25 people showed up to each hearing to voice their opposition to the cuts, many saying they depend on transit to get around the city.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner, who attended Thursday's public hearing, said Friday he was working on drafting a resolution to offer to restore the funds and avoid the service break.

"There is nothing official at this point, but that's my plan," Scrivner said. "Whether we get it done this week or not, I anticipate it's going to happen, but I would like for it to happen as early as (Monday)."

Scrivner said as of Friday afternoon, he had yet to contact all council members, but those he had spoken to supported the idea of restoring the transit funds.

"I think everyone on the council believes the best solution is to have a good, viable transportation system, but we want to make it a workable system," Scrivner said.

He said details were still being worked out Friday and all plans were preliminary, but the idea would be to cover the $55,000 needed with funds from the city's early retirement program.

As part of the budget cuts approved last month, the city began a Separation Incentive Plan to reduce positions based on early retirement/resignation, instead of mandatory furloughs or layoffs. The city estimated it would need six employees to leave through the program to reach the $150,000 savings projected in the approved budget cuts.

As of late March, seven employees had opted to take part in the program. City employees have through Monday to take part.

Scrivner said more people than anticipated have chosen to take part in the program and some of those additional savings can be used to avoid the cut to transit service.

"I'm still confirming that," Scrivner said.

He said his hope is that after the funds are restored, the transit system can be looked at as a whole in the public works committee meetings.

"Immediately after the new council is seated, I'd like to ... make that something that we work on early and get some stake holders involved," Scrivner said. "This has been an issue that's been on the calendar you might say since I first came ... I would like to actually make it a focus and try to get some clarity going forward."

Mayor Eric Struemph said in the future, he would like to have an outside group or person come in and study the city's transit system to advise what changes should be made to improve it. He said many cities do not operate fixed-route systems like Jefferson City and that may be something to look into.

"I think as a whole we need to look at how we can increase ridership for the end users and the stake holders that use our transit system every day," Struemph said. "I really think we need someone to come in and help us make our transit system better."

Heidi Lucas, chairwoman of the opposition group Citizens for Jefftran, said she's happy to hear the council is looking at restoring the funds because of how transit affects so many in the city.

"I'm glad that the City Council is seeing how important transit is for Jefferson City," Lucas said.

The group has been preparing for a large community event, something of a support rally at 4 p.m. Thursday at Common Ground Community Center. Lucas said, if the council does pass a resolution to restore the funds, that event would become a celebration of successfully fighting the cuts.