Senior board declines transit money request

Friday, June 9, 2006

The transit authority signed the contract to buy Kelley Transportation.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission promised Thursday to back a loan for the expanded county transit system, but a board controlling tax money set aside for senior services declined a request for a large financial commitment.

The commission voted unanimously to guarantee a loan of up to $660,000 for the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority. The guarantee covers the $360,000 cost to purchase Kelley Transportation Co. Inc. and a $300,000 line of credit for startup costs.

The Senior Citizens Service Fund Board voted in the afternoon for a motion proclaiming full support for the expanded service. They declined, however, a request to set aside $40,000 the transit authority could draw in event of an emergency.

Instead, the senior service board voted to provide whatever help it could when necessary as long as it had funds available. The board, which distributes about $450,000 annually, is already providing the transit authority with $55,000 this year.

"I don't want to say we aren't for them, but we can't commit money we don't have," senior board member Sharon Meyr said.

Other board members echoed Meyr's cautious approach. The senior fund board won't know how much it will have to spend in 2007 until the fall, chairman Dale Rauh noted.

"We've got to be careful so as to not jeopardize other programs," he said.

The board makes grants to senior centers in Cape Girardeau and Jackson and provides grants to support health programs and other services for people over 60 years old.

Transit authority board chairman Doug Richards signed the purchase contract with Kelley Transportation on Thursday, transit authority director Jeff Brune said. That finalizes the agreement announced in March that the transit authority was moving to unify transit programs for the county.

Money from the senior board would have been helpful, Brune said, but it was not crucial.

"They have helped us for years," Richards said of the senior board. "I truly understand their position. They have got to protect their interests. The worst that we could have gotten was no endorsement."

Prior to the agreement, Kelley Transportation provided public transit inside Cape Girardeau city limits. Patrons could buy up to 14 subsidized coupons each month, good for one ride each.

That program will be replaced by a fixed-route bus service, the first in 37 years in Cape Girardeau. Riding the bus will cost $1.50 for adults and $1 for seniors and the disabled.

Point-to-point service within Cape Girardeau will be more expensive unless the patron lives within three-quarters of a mile of the bus route, Brune said.

The commission vote obligates county taxpayers to pay the loan if it the transit authority defaults. But commissioners said they see little possibility of the guarantee being used.

Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones compared the guarantee to one provided to the regional port authority in the past for upgrades and expansion. "The fledgling operation that it is, the financial institution just wanted some sort of guarantee," Jones said.

Commissioner Larry Bock, while supporting the guarantee, wants to be sure it isn't open-ended. "I want a repayment schedule from the Cape County Transit Authority," he said.

Commissioner Jay Purcell, who helped broker the initial agreement for the purchase of Kelley Transportation, said the purchase is only the first step to expanded services for the entire county. "For transportation to benefit in Cape County, it had to be one entity," he said.

The transit authority will have myriad sources of income for its operations. The Missouri Department of Transportation, for example, reimburses transit programs for 80 percent of their capital investments.

Operational grants are also available from MoDOT. And along with taking over public transportation in Cape Girardeau, the transit authority will also operate taxis and a courier service to generate cash.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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