Belated federal funds expected next month
BY KEVIN BONESKE
The Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission Executive Committee backed a series of measures Friday morning to prevent the Northwoods Transit Connections buses that it oversees from having to stop operating.
After not yet receiving contracted federal funds for this year, coupled with higher-than-budgeted expenses, the Transit Commission has found itself in a financial crunch. That has raised concerns about whether the buses would be able to keep running after this month.
The Transit Commission is expecting around $300,000 in federal support for this year. That amounts to close to half of its budget for 2017.
Executive Committee chairman Erv Teichmiller said the Transit Commission has been told the first two quarters in payments of this year’s federal grant money, which is funneled though the state of Wisconsin, should be received by Oct. 4. He noted the approximately $110,000 expected by early next month, along with around $35,000 already received through the state, will make it possible to keep the buses operating without having to obtain another loan.
The Transit Commission earlier this year sought a cash advance from both counties. The Oneida County Board agreed in January to provide a one-time, interest-free $50,000 advance to help with the commission’s cash flow as it awaited the receipt of grant funding. Vilas County also provided a $50,000 advance.
When the Transit Commission recently sought another loan, that effort didn’t receive the backing from either county. Oneida County supervisor Bob Mott, who is also the Executive Committee’s vice chairman, suggested a $100,000 loan to the county’s Administration Committee, but no resolution to provide that was brought before the County Board on Tuesday. Vilas County’s Finance and Budget Committee voted 3-2 Wednesday against bringing a resolution for a $150,000 loan before its County Board on Sept. 26.
Transit Commission manager Jim Altenburg has informed the Executive Committee that his initial estimate of 38,000-40,000 rides for entire year has already been surpassed for 2017 with Northwoods Transit Connections, which charges $1 for a one-way ride for seniors and those with disabilities and $2 for others not in those two categories. He noted with the increased ridership has come increased costs.
At Friday’s meeting, the Executive Committee implemented changes in the Transit Commission’s operations in an effort to reduce those costs.
“We will make some effort to compress those services, so that they are somewhat more efficient and take less staff time,” said Teichmiller, who also noted there would be a limited number of layoffs.
The Executive Committee has put in place a requirement for riders of Northwoods Transit Connections to provide a 24-hour advance notice to request a ride, with the exception of “emergencies and extenuating circumstances.”
“We have been, actually, quite willing to provide rides on-call for people,” Teichmiller said. “We simply can’t continue to do that. We need to ask people to let us know ahead of time.”
Executive Committee members also favored reducing the bus schedule as proposed by Altenburg.
When asked about how the bus schedule would be changed, Altenburg provided few details.
“That’s being formulated as we speak,” he said. “I’m not going to address what is or isn’t going to be run as far as a directive. There will be a constriction of it, how many people I have out on a shift. It will be reduced.”
Individuals who provide private bus and taxi service locally were also on hand for Friday morning’s meeting. They have questioned the Transit Commission’s business model and raised objections about Northwoods Transit Connections taking business away from them.
Carrie Linzmeier, of StarGazer Limousine, Service StarGazer Ride Service and Northwoods Mobility, told the Executive Committee her business does “pretty much everything that you all do.”
“I’ve just been hearing so many things lately about there not being transportation and access to transportation in the community for the elderly, the disabled,” she said. “And I wanted to finally speak up and say we’ve been here since 2013, 2014, and I just want you to know that we have wheelchair vehicles, we do all of these medical trips….
“It’s been difficult for us to compete with a government-funded agency like this when we have invested thousands of our personal dollars and have no grant funds, no nothing, and we work very hard to make sure that these services are available everyday to these people in this community.”
Linzmeier asked the Executive Committee to consider a different operating model that utilizes existing transportation providers to help keep the Transit Commission’s operating costs down.
The Transit Commission took over busing transportation services that prior to last year been handled in Oneida County by the county’s department on aging. Since then, the passenger base has expanded from the elderly and disabled to now include individuals who are not in those two categories.
Rich Linzmeier, also of StarGazer Limousine, StarGazer Ride Service and Northwoods Mobility, said he has seen a decline in business volume and revenue because of Northwoods Transit Connections.