To fund or not to fund new transit system?
That's the question voters and county officials are facing
February 25, 2010
OSSIPEE — The Carroll County Transit Project (CCTP) is scheduled to begin offering three transportation services to area travelers on July 1. However, county and municipal governments would need to contribute financially for the systems to be implemented in full.
Once started, the CCTP will provide these three programs: a rural bus system, a demand response service, and a long distance medical transportation service. Much of the funding comes from the federal government, which provided $540,000 to purchase eight new buses, through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus).
CCTP is also seeking contributions from 10 area towns and the Carroll County government. Each town is asked to contribute $3,000, as is the county government.
"We're not going to shut any towns off, but depending on the funding we receive we may have to cut back on some of our services, initially," said System Manager Ted LaLiberte in a phone interview on Tuesday.
In some towns, like Freedom, Effingham and Conway, officials aren't supporting funding for CCTP. Also, some county officials have concern that CCTP is "double dipping" because it's asking the towns and the county government for money and the county gets its money from the towns.
Any shortfalls in funding from the towns has the potential to impact CCTP's ability to provide the demand response and long distance medical transit services.
With the demand response service (dial a ride), a person in one of three zones could call CCTP and get a ride to anywhere in that zone, said LaLiberte. The zones aren't cast in stone but as of now they consist of the following: zone one, Ossipee, Tuftonboro, and Wolfeboro; zone two, West Ossipee, Sandwich, and Tamworth; and zone three, Conway, Albany and Intervale. The dial a ride system would primarily serve the disabled but would also serve the general public when space allows, said LaLiberte. The charge for riders would range between $2 and $7.
The long distance medical program would give people in the county rides to medical appointments in locations as far away as Boston, Mass., and Portland, Maine. CCTP would ask riders of this service for a $30 donation. But LaLiberte said it's okay if some aren't able to afford it.
A funding shortfall from the towns and the county would have less impact rural bus route, which would offer round trips from: Ossipee to Wolfeboro, West Ossipee to North Conway, and West Ossipee to Laconia. Round trips would range in price from $2 to $3.
LaLiberte's request for money raised some eyebrows at the County Delegation meeting last week. The delegation, made up of 14 state representatives, is the governmental body that approves the county budget.
Delegate Karen Umberger (R-Kearsage) said municipal officials in Conway had opposed the funding request because of concerns the demand response system would be "abused."
"Instead of calling a taxi or using their car, they would abuse the dial a ride, so my question is how are you going to manage that?" asked Umberger.
LaLiberte replied CCTP would closely monitor the usage. But he added that he wasn't sure how to prevent people from using the service since it's open to the public and the funding comes from the Federal government.
"If other people choose to use the program that's ok, it's not just designed for senior citizens," he said.
In an interview on Friday, LaLiberte said if there were an overwhelming demand for demand response buses, CCTP would refer people to local taxi services.
Delegate Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) said the delegation has rule that entities can't ask both town governments and the county government for money. The delegation will meet several more times in March and the issue is likely to be discussed again.
"The concern is it tends to look like double dipping," said delegation chair Betsey Patten (R-Moultonborough).
Three towns have funding for CCTP in their proposed operating budgets, which signals officials from those towns support the program. Those towns are: Ossipee, Moultonborough, and Wolfeboro.
Another seven towns have warrant articles asking their residents whether they want to fund the program or not. Those towns are: Sandwich, Madison, Albany, Conway, Bartlett, Freedom, and Effingham.
Effingham Budget Committee Chair Paul Bartoswicz said the selectmen and budget committee don't recommend the spending because transit system wouldn't be much use to residents.
(LaLiberte said only the long distance medical service would be available to people in Effingham, but that could change in the future.)
"Why should Effingham residents pay $3,000 when they are only getting a small part of what they are offering," asked Bartoswics rhetorically. Although Bartoswics doesn't support the warrant article he believes voters should have the opportunity to decide on it.
Freedom officials are not supporting the article for similar reasons. Freedom would only receive long distance medical service in the beginning, said LaLiberte.
The town of Tamworth doesn't have money for the project in the proposed operating budget or in a warrant article.
The Tri-County Community Action program, which is the parent organization of CCTP, operates similar transit programs in Berlin and Gorham, said LaLiberte.