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Transit System Gets Nod For Funding From Washington County Committee

Budget deliberations continue today by Rose Ann Pearce | November 19, 2013 at 5:00 a.m.

— Washington County likely will help fund a new Ozark Regional Transit route from Lincoln to Elkins after a meeting Monday of the Finance and Budget Committee of the Quorum Court.

The committee voted to provide $122,970 to the regional transit operation for the cross-county route. The amount represents a 10 percent investment in the system.

MEETING INFORMATION

Today’s Meeting

The Finance and Budget Committee of the Washington County Quorum Court will meet again today.

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Place: Washington County Courthouse

On the Agenda: A continuing discussion of the budget proposal for the county’s Information Technology Department.

The county now gives the transit system about $23,500. The system earlier asked Washington and Benton counties and the four largest cities to pay $1.5 million per year to expand the routes. The original request was for 20 percent of the dollars given by the state to cities and counties from revenue generated by a voter-approved highway sales tax.

For Washington County, that equals $245,000 out of the $1.23 million for the next 10 years, which is the life of the sales tax.

The Finance and Budget Committee is made up of all members of the Quorum Court. Of the 14 members in attendance, three voted against the proposed expenditure.

Justices of the Peace Tom Lundstrum, Ron Aman and Rick Cochran cast dissenting votes. Lundstrum and Aman said their constituents were against the expenditure. Lundstrum noted he had received numerous email messages from residents in his district expressing their opposition.

Justice of the Peace Candy Clark said the vote means the justices support the expenditure but the proposal still has to go through the county’s budgeting process.

Discussion centered on the need to fix roads and bridges in rural areas of the county and the need to spread some of the sales tax money in the cities, too. Justice of the Peace Ann Harbison remained resolute in her support that the sales tax revenue needed to be applied to the repair of roads and bridges. Justice of the Peace Eva Madison said a portion of that money should be spent on public transit.

It was decided by the committee members that the transit allocation should come from the state sales tax rather than the general fund. If the sales tax fund doesn’t provide the $122,970 each year, an appropriation from the county’s general fund will make up the difference.

Joel Gardner, transit general manager, said the proposed new route would run between Elkins and Lincoln five days a week, about 15 hours a day, stopping in Prairie Grove, Farmington and Fayetteville. Buses would leave either Elkins or Lincoln every two hours.

Gardner said he was pleased with the 10 percent level of investment the county agreed to even though he had asked for 20 percent.

The cost to run a route, such as the one proposed across Washington County, is between $108,000 and $120,000, Gardner said.

He meets with Benton County officials today. Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville have given him verbal agreements for a 20 percent or more expenditure, he said.

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