By Tammy Gray —
“Right now, we’d have to find ways to make up the funding for those not participating for the bus service to continue. We’re hoping it will continue,” Navajo County Manager Jimmy Jayne said of the White Mountain Connection bus service that runs between Pinetop-Lakeside and Holbrook.
Navajo County, Northland Pioneer College (NPC) and cities along the route were each asked to contribute to the cost of operating the service. All of the entities agreed, except for Holbrook and Snowflake. The Holbrook City Council turned the request down and it has not been placed back on the agenda for reconsideration. The Snowflake Town Council tabled the request, with Mayor Kelly Willis noting that larger cities such as Show Low should pay a larger share. Willis did note, however, that he felt Snowflake should contribute for at least one more year.
Each of the cities and the college were asked to contribute $5,916 to keep the bus service running. Navajo County had paid those partners’ shares in past years. Jayne noted that he was hopeful Snowflake would agree to fund the service, leaving only Holbrook’s portion to be sought.
Asked whether the bus service might end if Holbrook and Snowflake did not contribute, Jayne remarked, “The funding cycle ends in June. We’re trying to renew the agreements and the county is committed to renew it. We’d sure hate to see it go away.”
According to Jayne, the bus is used by county employees traveling to and from the complex in Holbrook, as well as by a number of residents to conduct business in other towns along the route.
“We feel it is an important service,” he said. “The citizens and the employees of Navajo County benefit. NAVIT (Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology) uses it for their students, along with NPC.”
Jayne noted that, at this point, it seems unlikely the Holbrook Council will reverse its decision. He noted that he was not sure how, or if, the bus service would be funded without the city’s portion.
Holbrook Councilman Wade Carlisle had previously noted that the cost of riding the bus was significantly less than operating a private vehicle, even in the case of carpools. He suggested that the riders’ fares be increased.
“They could raise it (bus fare) two dollars and wipe out the city subsidies,” he noted.
Show Low Public Transit Coordinator Pete Erlenbach explained that fares would need to be raised to at least $4.76, because the Arizona Department of Transportation retains 58 percent of the revenue from fares.
Erlenback previously told the Snowflake Council that he did not know how the shortfall from non-participating partners would be handled.
“We’re hoping the county has a card in their deck they haven’t played,” he said. “So we’re going to work around that. We don’t know how we’re going to do that yet.”
Jayne did not reveal any backup plan for bus service funding, noting only that the county does not want to see it end.
“The funding cycle ends at the end of June, so there have to be some decisions made soon,” he said.