Mill levy sought to keep county buses running
by Brent Shrum, Kootenai Valley Record
March 11, 2008
Faced with a loss of state funding, the Lincoln County Transportation Service is turning to county residents with a 1-mill levy request that will be placed on the June 3 primary ballot.
The service was established in October 2006 as an outgrowth of the county’s existing bus service for senior citizens. Nearly half the $245,000 budget comes from a federal grant administered by the Montana Department of Transportation.
During a Feb. 27 conference call with MDT Transit Section supervisor Audrey Allums, Lincoln County officials expressed concerns over a reduction in state reimbursement for administrative expenses from 80 percent to 70 percent. Commissioner Rita Windom said the service is expected to operate like a business under strict guidelines established by the state, “and they have no permanency in the rules and regulations that you set out for them. Costs go up and reimbursement goes down.”
“There isn’t a business in the world that can operate successfully under those parameters,” Windom said.
Allums said the funding formula was changed because of increased demand for funds from transportation services across the state. The reduction in reimbursement frees up more money for capital expenditures like the purchase of buses, Allums said. She suggested that Lincoln County may have to look at scaling back its services to cope with the loss of support.
“I’ve got to tell you, I’m very concerned about running a selective service,” Lincoln County Transportation Service president Karen Turner told Allums. “Because that puts us in a position of telling one individual that he can get chemotherapy and another that he cannot.”
In December 2007, the service gave 1,087 rides to 570 people. Of those, 30 percent were over age 60, and 45 percent were disabled. More than a third of all riders traveled for medical services. Others traveled for shopping, senior meals, employment and school.
Rides are provided according to an established schedule with operating hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fees are set and published, although some riders – including people traveling to vote, attend church services, or to accompany an elderly or disabled medical patient – are exempt. The service occasionally provides transportation for a single rider or a couple traveling to Kalispell for a medical emergency; those trips are billed at a rate of $32 to $40 depending on pickup location.
The service has three vehicles based in Libby, two in Eureka and two in Troy. The average age of the fleet is 10 years, and the oldest vehicle is 18 years old, Turner said.
Along with the reduction in reimbursement, funds allocated for operations and maintenance have been reduced because money went unspent last year, Turner said. The service is looking at a total loss in MDT-administered funds of around $27,000 – about the same amount that would be brought in by 1 mill of county property tax money.
An MDT consultant who reviewed the Lincoln County Transportation Service budget could find no “fat” in the budget and recommended that the service seek funds from within the community, Turner said.
Editor’s Note: See the March 10, 2008 edition of the Kootenai Valley Record for the printed version of this story. The Kootenai Valley Record publishes once a week, on Monday, in Libby, Montana. They are a locally owned community newspaper, located at 403 Mineral Avenue in Libby. For in-county and out-of-county subscription information, call 406-293-2424, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.