Transit system funding goes before assembly second time

Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2000

Parents were withdrawing their children from the kindergarten program at Sears Elementary School because their children had no way to get home. Kindergartners have only half-days of school and get out of class hours before buses arrive. Concerned, nurse Becky Johnson called Kristin Lambert.

When Kelly Lucassen, whose daughter is a second-grader at Sears, heard about the kindergarten students leaving the school, she, too, made a call to Lambert, on the same day.

Lambert is the director of the Central Area Rural Transit System (CARTS), a transportation brokerage that will begin service Monday.

Johnson and Lucassen didn't know each other before they contacted her, but by day's end, Lucassen had provided a partial solution to the problem Johnson and several parents faced.

Lucassen will provide transportation for the students several days a week.

CARTS is a nonprofit organization that aims to match transportation needs with volunteer and contracted service providers. Tonight the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets to discuss, among other things, whether it will provide funds to the tune of $50,000 for the program.

CARTS will begin scheduling rides Friday, regardless of whether the borough funds it. CARTS has received funding from the Federal Transit Administration, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Alaska Public Assistance and the city of Soldotna, among other sources .

The assembly already discussed an ordinance to fund CARTS, sponsored by Tim Navarre, at the Sept. 12 meeting in Homer. A 4-4 tie vote resulted in the vote on that ordinance.

Assembly members had plenty of praise for Lambert and others devoted to introducing public transportation to the area. But some of them had a number of doubts as well.

At issue is the powers expansion that the ordinance would create. Under Title 29, a borough may grant itself certain powers; in this case, the borough would create a transportation power.

Navarre said that he simply could have tried to include funding for CARTS in the appropriations bill, but acted on the advice of the borough attorney in drafting his ordinance to create the transportation power.

"The powers are nothing," Navarre said. "This is the cleaner way to do it. It's just a legal avenue."

Navarre said creating a transportation power merely gives the borough an appropriate designation for the funds, making it easier for taxpayers to see how much the borough is spending on the program. The borough cannot automatically fund the program next year, when it will have an opportunity to assess the program's performance, he said.

Assembly member Grace Merkes opposes the ordinance.

Merkes, who is currently working to establish a Head Start program, said she recognizes the need for public transportation.

"If it gets started, they (Head Start participants) could use the transportation," she said.

Merkes said her main concern with the ordinance is the power expansion.

Merkes said she expects the expense to the borough for CARTS to exceed $50,000 over time. Anticipating objections that the borough must decide annually whether to grant funds to the program, she said she would rather let voters decide, for now, whether to create the new power.

"I'm going to go with what the taxpayers say," Merkes said.

She said she suspects voters would not support any ordinance funding CARTS.

Navarre said he also doubts voters would currently support the program, suggesting that any discussion would be fraught with misinformation and hastily formed opinions.

"As you raise an issue with the public, they (the voters) get more educated (about the issue)," he said.

Navarre said he believes funding the program for a year will provide valuable information on the feasibility of public transportation and said the cost of a feasibility study would be about the same.

Similar programs have enjoyed success in other parts of the country. People for People, a brokerage in south central Washington state, provides 400 to 500 rides a day in nine counties, according to its director of transportation, Chris Fix.

Fix described the area People for People serves as rural and said some of the people who use the service live as far as 100 miles from the nearest taxi route.

Anyone interested in learning more about the CARTS program may call 262-6122 or visit its Web site at CARTS is currently looking for volunteers and service providers, who are paid under a contract agreement with the organization.

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