Kenai citizens, businesses and city council combined Wednesday to keep a popular kindergarten transport program on track.
Wednesday morning, Central Area Rural Transit System, popularly known as CARTS, still needed $2,800 by today to continue providing free rides to school for 42 kindergartners, 34 of whom are Sears and Aurora Borealis elementary students. By Wednesday evening, the organization had met its goal, thanks to contributions from the Kenai community and a $450 donation from the city of Kenai.
Initially, CARTS intended to end the service March 1 if it were not able to raise the $10,500 needed to qualify for a matching grant program that would keep the rides going for the half-day students.
Janine Espy, who sits on the CARTS board of directors, appealed to the Kenai City Council Wednesday night to help fund the CARTS service to the kindergartners, indicating some of the students using the service might not be able to complete the school year without the free rides.
"I see it as a problem that the community can come together and solve," she said. "As I come before you , we're only down to $450 that we're lacking."
Espy said the organization received $2,350 in donations Wednesday.
Mayor John Williams said city funds for planned trips he did not take could go toward the cause.
"I did save a considerable amount of money in our transportation budget," he said. "If council so chooses, they could authorize the $450 to CARTS from our transportation budget."
Council member Pat Porter asked if CARTS had planned for next year. Espy said a loss of insurance coverage for volunteer drivers hindered the free ride program this year, but the obstacle had been alleviated.
"We will be able to get insurance for volunteers," Espy said.
Council member Duane Bannock said he found several problems with city involvement in the transportation service.
"When the planning and zoning commission was reviewing the lists generated for the Kenai comprehensive plan, there was a line item that came up during the original town hall meeting, that the city should get involved in local schools," he said. "That was rejected at the committee level because we felt the school district was doing a good job."
Bannock also pointed out concerns over rules governing transportation of students.
"I have some serious issues, especially as it pertains to the idea of the volunteer driving with the special requirements placed by the National Highway Safety Transportation Association for transporting students, including pre-primary students," he said. "Is CARTS certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is no conflict here?"
Espy said CARTS had an agreement with the parents to allow the organization to give the rides. Bannock said he was still uncomfortable with any decision to support the ride service.
"If you were a parent, how comfortable would you be with a loosely organized (group) including volunteers, carrying your child around in God knows what kind of vehicle?" he asked. "I see no scenario that has CARTS being in compliance with the National Highway Safety Transportation Association."
The motion was made to make the donation to CARTS from the transportation budget. The motion passed 4-3, with council members Bannock, Porter and Jim Bookey voting against the donation.
In other news from Wednesday night's meeting:
n The council awarded a bid of $14,700 to Zubeck Inc., for demolition of hazardous structures located at 1207 Second Ave., 1309 Kaknu Way and 1218 Lilac Lane.
n The council authorized the city manager to enter into the purchase option agreement with Dick Morgan to explore his family property to assess the possibility of finding a water well to connect to the city water main. The purchase price agreed upon, should the city elect to buy the land, is $40,000.
n The city will employ a temporary part-time code enforcement officer to improve monitoring of planning and zoning and health and safety codes in the city. The officer will report to the city legal department and operate on an as-needed basis.
The council approved a resolution transferring $3,500 from the legal department's professional services account to its personal services account to pay for the position.
n The council passed a resolution in support of House Bill 488, allowing insurance tax credits for gifts to schools to support teaching math, science and technology. The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska was identified as fitting the criteria for such contributions, provided a foundation was set up to receive the funds.
Sen. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, sponsored the bill, which has been forwarded to the House committees for further action.
The next council meeting will be at 7 p.m. March 20 at Kenai City Hall.
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