Sat, Feb

CAT fee, route schedule cannot be sustained

Cottonwood News

Cottonwood public transportation officials told a room of about 40 people, many of which were elderly and disabled, Aug. 31 they will either pay more or ride less on Cottonwood Area Transit starting in January.

Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority officials told people who rely on local buses to get to work, the grocery store and the doctor’s office the current fee structure and route schedule cannot be sustained.

Jeff Meilbeck, the general manager of Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority, talks to a crowd of approximately 40 Verde Valley residents at an open house Aug. 31. Many of the attendees were elderly or disabled and expressed their concerns about service cuts that are necessary to bridge a $70,938 budget shortfall.CAT transported nearly 5,000 riders in and around Cottonwood, Verde Villages, Bridgeport and Clarkdale in June, about 2,000 more riders than it transported during the same period in 2010, according to the most current ridership figures.

“Nobody wants to cut CAT service,” NAIPTA General Manager Jeff Meilbeck told the gathering. “The problem is money.”

NAIPTA needs about $71,000 to continue operating CAT at the same level through next year, he said.

Three months ago, NAIPTA officials estimated the CAT budget shortfall could be as much as $177,000 and took immediate action to compensate, laying off one full-time manager and replacing one aging bus instead of two as needed.

The move reduced the fiscal year 2011-2012 NAIPTA budget by about $107,000, NAIPTA Internal Services Senior Manager Heather Dalmolin said.

“Although a $70,938 funding problem is much easier to tackle than a $177,672 funding problem, the amount is still significant in the current economy,” Meilbeck stated in an Aug. 17 memo to the NAIPTA Board of Directors.

Currently, an all-day CAT pass costs $2. One-way trips cost $1. Northern Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority is considering increasing the one-way base fare to $2.25 per trip, more than doubling the cost to riders. In the alternative, it proposes to cut services.

The shortfall comes after Cottonwood City Council turned operation of CAT over to NAIPTA in January and voted in August to cut CAT funding by roughly 40 percent, or about $156,000 less than NAIPTA requested.

NAIPTA’s request to Cottonwood was already 5 percent less than the year before, Meilbeck stated.

Of the $375,000 NAIPTA originally requested from the city, Cottonwood voted to contribute $219,800. Likewise, Yavapai County Board of Supervisors voted to contribute $21,000 less than the $43,000 NAIPTA requested.

Cottonwood Administrative Services General Manager Rudy Rodriguez, who attended the Aug. 31 meeting, said the city simply doesn’t have an extra $71,000 to make up the difference.

Clarkdale Town Council came closest to paying the full amount asked for by NAIPTA, voting to contribute $38,800 of the $39,700 requested. Town Councilman Curt Bohall, a strong CAT supporter, advocated forcefully in favor of the funding.

Cottonwood resident Dennis Ladd, who is legally blind, and his wife, Barbara, also blind, said maintaining CAT at current levels is critical to their lifestyle.

“It’s the reason we moved here,” Barbara Ladd said.

“We want them to know how important it is to keep the transit system going,” Dennis Ladd said. “Too many people rely on it for work and lifestyle.”

Frankie Bemis, a Cottonwood senior who no longer drives, said she needs CAT to get the Cottonwood Recreation Center for exercise.

“I’m a recreationist, I guess you could say,” Bemis said.

“I’m very interested to find out where they go and what the cost will be,” she said. “I’m in favor of a $1 fare for one-way trips and a $3 fare for all day.”

“There’s no way private enterprise is going to step in and provide this essential service,“ former Cottonwood City Councilman Darold Smith said. “I would like to see how much the cuts will be and whether there is anything the city can do in the alternative.”

The NAIPTA board could make a final decision on service cuts or fare increases as soon as its next meeting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21, at Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Board Room, 150 S. Sixth St.

For more information, call 679-8909.