Aug 282012

By Linda Kor
The Navajo County Community College District Governing Board gave its support to the regional bus service Aug. 21. In a resolution supporting the White Mountain Connection, the college agrees to pay a dis-trict contribution of $5,916 for the first year, with the two one-year automatic renewals. The dollar amount represents 10 percent of the cost to operate the transit system, with past annual contributions being $6,295.
The public transportation service has been in operation since 2009, with the county subsidizing the cost for communities from Pinetop-Lakeside to Holbrook for operation of the bus line. That changed this fiscal year when county officials said they could no longer pay more than the county’s share of costs.
Holbrook has declined to take part in funding the service. Holbrook City Manager Ray Alley previously noted that he believes that a majority of the riders are county employees dropped off at the county complex east of Holbrook or employees of Northland Pioneer College who live in other towns, but work in Holbrook, thus the service is not a direct benefit for the city.
The Snowflake Town Council had tabled action on the matter, but was scheduled to approve funding the service for one year at its meeting Tuesday evening.
With the support of those two communities in question, there was concern that the transit system would be unable to continue, but the remaining communities of Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and Taylor, as well as Navajo County, made the decision to absorb the additional costs.
The service is partially funded by a grant from the Arizona Department of Transportation, which requires matching funds totaling $59,160. The agreement calls for the county to provide 40 percent of the matching funds, or $23,664, and NPC and the four communities, 10 percent each, or $5,916 each. The remaining 10 percent would come from advertising revenue.
The bus service is used primarily by students of NPC, county employees and Northern Arizona Voca-tional Institute of Technology (NAVIT) students, but is also used by residents who conduct business throughout the county.
Board Chairman Bill Jeffers asked what would happen if other contributors should decide to no longer support the system, directing the question to Mark Vest, vice president for Learning and Student Services, who is representing the college on the matter.
“If that should happen, then we will need to re-evaluate the situation. There will also eventually be capi-tal costs that will emerge since these are buses that we’re talking about. So we’ll have to see when the time comes,” Vest explained.
Jeffers then asked if the cost of using the bus system has been evaluated.
“Yes, this service is efficient and low cost for riders compared to other transit services, and is growing in use. As capital needs emerge we may have to look at the cost of use, but no decision has been made on that yet,” Vest responded.
The current rates to ride the bus are $1 within the same town, $3 to the next town, $5 to anywhere else on the route and $8 for an all day pass. There are also monthly passes, and senior and disabled discount cards are available.
In other business Aug. 21, the board approved an intergovernmental agreement with Apache County as a continuation of an existing relationship to provide services in that county. The current agreement for 2012-13 is for $600,000, reflecting an annual increase of $70,000 from the 2011-12 agreement. The increase was said to be the result of reduced state operating aid and an increase in operational expenses.
“Apache County has indicated that the $600,000 contribution from the county is approaching the capac-ity of the higher education secondary property tax revenue stream and may affect provision of services for the county in the future,” stated Vice President for Administrative Services Blaine Hatch, adding that actual revenue and expenses are determined through a year end analysis and payment adjustments are made follow-ing an annual analysis. The total cost of the program creates no burden on the taxpayers of Navajo County.
The board also approved a reduction of force for the faculty in heavy equipment operations assigned to teach in Apache County. The decision was based on a need to reduce costs to the county and will affect one position on the faculty.