By Naomi Hatch –
Mayor Kelly Willis asked tough questions when the issue of towns funding the White Mountain Connection bus line were brought before the Snowflake Town Council May 8. He said then that Show Low had a larger budget than Snowflake and should put more into the cost of funding the bus, but noted in the end that Snowflake would pay its fair share. When it came down to a vote last week, though, a tie resulted and the issue was tabled.
“It’s my understanding that the grant in our package… I thought the grant had lapsed,” said the mayor at the June 12 council meeting.
Pete Erlenbach, grant and public transit coordinator for the City of Show Low, explained that they apply for the grant annually and it was awarded, but because the Local Transportation Assistance Fund (LTAF) no longer exists, Navajo County, which used its LTAF money to pay the other partners’ shares, has asked that the partners now pay their shares. The grant had not lapsed, but the three-year intergovernmental agreement between the seven partners had.
Erlenbach said that all but two of the partners had approved the $5,916 cost to keep the bus running. He said Taylor approved it with a unanimous decision and, “Holbrook is meeting tonight, but I don’t expect them to come on board.”
“How do you propose handling it if Holbrook doesn’t cover their share?” asked Councilman Tom Poscharsky, asking more specifically if there would be an increase to the other partners.
Erlenbach responded that at this time he did not know, but, “We’re hoping the county has a card in their deck they haven’t played.” He noted that all partnership members have said that they do not want to take up Holbrook’s share. “So we’re going to work around that,” he said. “We don’t know how we’re going to do that yet.”
He explained that they would have to increase fees to $4.76 to get $2 per rider because the Arizona Department of Transportation takes a 58 percent cut because of the large amount it contributes. He said that they are going to a better plan how to place buses.
“It’s my understanding we had a $5,000 increase in our budget due to a generous contributor,” said Mayor Willis, who then suggested they use that money to fund the bus.
Town Manager Paul Watson noted that the town received that money from Hon-Dah Resort and Casino.
“Use this $5,000; I feel like that’s what I’d like to do. I feel like I’d like to give it another year,” said the mayor, noting that he offered his apologies for some comments he made at the last meeting. “I really felt the grant had lapsed and there was no money available.”
Mayor Willis asked if anyone else in the audience wished to make a comment, but none did. He then moved to approve this item.
Poscharsky said that when they approved $10,000 from budget surplus for the Silver Creek Senior Citizens Center at the previous meeting, he felt it was a good cause and that it was in lieu of the bus. “I’m not in favor of this,” he said of paying a share of the bus line costs. He suggested the county take one or two of its vans and put them into pools similar to what the prison has done to transport employees.
“How much is the administrative charge?” asked Vice Mayor Jason Whiting.
Erlenbach responded that approximately 40 percent of his salary is paid from the grant.
In response to another question posed by Vice Mayor Whiting, Erlenbach said that the administrative budget totaled $109,000. He did not have the breakdown, but it includes part of his wages, financing of the account, marketing, budgeting and advertising, “those types of things.”
“I made a motion,” said the mayor. “I want everyone to realize that if things don’t improve, we don’t get the riders necessary, the budget remains the same or goes higher and higher, we might look at something different.”
Vice Mayor Whiting requested that they include a cap of $5,916. Mayor Willis agreed and made the amendment, which Whiting seconded.
The motion did not pass with Mayor Willis, Vice Mayor Whiting and Councilman Chris Brimhall voting in favor of it, and Councilmen Poscharsky and Larry Matyas, and Councilwoman Bev Kay opposing it. Councilwoman Lorri Davis was absent from the proceedings.
A subsequent motion to table the item passed unanimously.