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Our Opinion: Transit funds restored; another study regrettable

Our Opinion: Transit funds restored; another study regrettable

News Tribune editorial

April 21st, 2013 in News

The Jefferson City Council made a wise move Monday, then attached a provision that may prove regrettable.

The council voted 9-1 to approve a resolution that wisely restored $55,000 to the city's transit system, eliminating a proposed three-hour, midday break in service.

Rather than stop there, however, the council decided to seek an outside consultant or facilitator for a study of the transit system. The potential costs will not be known until the requests for proposals are received and opened.

Three questions that deserve to be asked are:

• Does Jefferson City need an outside consultant to study the public transportation system?

• Can the city afford such a study?

• Is the city prepared to commit the funds needed for any improvements recommended by the study?

The lone "no" vote Monday was among the last official actions of outgoing 3rd Ward Councilman Bryan Pope, who reasoned: "I did not think we needed to hire another expert. We have the expertise. We don't have the money to hire all these out-of-town experts."

Which brings us to our second question - affordability.

The proposed $55,000 in transit cuts was part of a larger proposal approved by the council to make up a $1.68-million budget shortfall.

Because city transit also relies on federal funding, public hearings are required. Transit supporters protested the cuts at two hearings, and the council opted to restore the money using vacancy savings from an early retirement program.

The goal of the program was to attract six participants at an estimated savings of $150,000. By last week, 11 employees had joined the program, increasing the anticipated savings to more than $200,000.

The increased participation frees additional city revenue, which could be used for a consultant.

Is this a wise use of tax dollars?

If council members are prepared to follow through on study recommendations, the answer is perhaps.

If council members simply are trying to appease transit riders by creating an appearance of concern, the answer is no.

And if past history is any indicator, the answer is a resounding no.

Jefferson City, you may recall, in 2006 received a 55-page report, with recommendations, from a hired consultant, TranSystems Corporation of Kansas City.

Many of those recommendations continue to gather dust; they have not been implemented because of a lack of funds.

Sound familiar?

We believe hiring an outside consultant to restudy transit issues and advance unaffordable recommendations is itself a waste of money. And we believe the council erred in pursuing such a course.