Casper City Council on Tuesday tentatively restored funding for the local nonprofit transit system that serves people who otherwise would not be able to shop, get to work, make it to doctor's appointments and participate in the community.

"I'm very pleased that we were resurrected for another year; that's a great blessing for a lot of people," Casper Area Transportation Coalition Director Marge Cole said after the council made its preliminary decision at a work session.

"It turned out a lot better; I was a little nervous," Cole said. "It went really well."

She and about a dozen other supporters and users of Casper's only public transportation system attended the work session, and council members noted their presence and passion for CATC.

"I don't want to pick on this segment of society," councilmember Dallas Laird said.

On June 19, the City Council voted to cut about $113,000 from its contract with CATC when it approved its balanced $149 million general fund budget for the new fiscal year.

First, a little history.

The Casper Area Transportation Coalition started in 1982 as a door-to-door, demand-response service called CATC for people who are disabled and need rides to medical appointments, work, shopping and other necessities. (They're the cream-colored buses with the red trim.)

It expanded in 2005 with a fixed-route transit system called The Bus that serves Casper, Evansville and Mills. Anyone can ride these buses. (They're the white buses with the blue, green, red and yellow stripes.)

The Coalition receives funding from Casper, Mills, Evansville, Natrona County (for the unincorporated areas), the Wyoming Department of Transportation, grants and other sources.

The Federal Transportation Administration matches the local government funding.

That's where the seemingly modest reduction of the city's $313,672 general fund allocation last year by $113,672 to $200,000 this year caused a much greater impact.

The loss of the federal match of about $1.30 for every local dollar, would have reduced CATC's budget by about $245,000. Coupled with other funding adjustments, the total shortfall would be $265,550, according to the council's work session agenda.

CATC's budget last year was $1,885,286. This year's budget was $1,640,894.

As a result, Aaron Kloke of the city's Metropolitan Planning Organization suggested a variety of cuts to the program including reducing the hours of operation from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Kloke also recommended streamlining if not slashing major parts of routes for The Bus.

Tuesday, Kloke presented some of the same recommendations to the council, which looked at him and the unhappy CATC supporters sitting behind him.

Councilmembers, Kloke and Cole all supported reviewing The Bus routes for inefficiencies.

But that was a minor issue compared for the need councilmembers saw to restore the funding.

Chris Walsh noted that the reduction of hours would affect people who need to get to work and return home from work.

Bob Hopkins recommended keeping the current hours, which received a thumbs up from the other councilmembers. (Decisions made during work sessions are unofficial.)

Hopkins also recommended withdrawing $113,000 from the city's reserves, something Laird didn't like in light of the bitter decision last year to withdraw about $5 million from the reserves to balance the budget.

City Manager Carter Napier said the city has about $13 million in reserves, which is short of the city's policy to have a 120-day supply of cash.

So, city council agreed to withdraw the necessary $113,000 from its Optional 1-Cent Sales Tax No. 15 account to cover the shortfall.

Hopkins said the city should make a top priority of funding CATC through the next optional sales tax.

Napier said later that he will need to review that decision because sales tax revenues fell because of the recent downturn in the energy industry.

After the council's decision, CATC riders were pleased with outcome.

Mary Price repeated comments she made at the June 19 council meeting when she said health problems forced her to quit driving and start using CATC and learned how other residents need it more than she does.

"In many ways it's a matter of life and death," Price said.

 

Map of The Bus routes red dotted circles identify areas where routes may be streamlined.             Tom Morton, Townsquare Media