By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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About 40 people attended the public hearing at the Port Townsend Fire Station, 1301 Lawrence St.
Many voiced concerns about the service cuts and took issue with the notion that all budget-cutting options have been explored.
Among those options that were suggested was the cutting of administrative staff, canceling construction of a transit facility in Four Corners and spreading out cuts throughout the week.
“Jefferson Transit has made another empty promise, namely that service is their top priority,” said rider Scarlett Sankey.
“You have announced plans to terminate Sunday bus and Dial-a-Ride services,” she continued.
“If service is Jefferson Transit's top priority, the cuts should come from elsewhere.”
Transit reports that revenue from a sales tax hike of 0.3 percent, which voters passed in 2011 — and which was intended to preserve bus services — is down about $175,000, or 5 percent below projections.
This shortfall is exacerbated by an increase in fuel costs and a need to maintain the system's reserve funds, according to a Transit budget presentation.
“The income from sales tax has been less than anticipated, and even with reductions, Jefferson Transit is unable to sustain this level,” said Tammi Rubert, Transit general manager.
“We cannot afford the rising costs in health care and insurance, which increased at least 9 percent each year, and cutting Sunday service is the only option,” Rubert said.
No action was taken at Tuesday's meeting.
Consideration of approval of the 2013 budget — including proposed cuts — is expected at the next Transit board meeting at 1 p.m. Dec. 18, which also will be at the Port Townsend Fire Station, 1301 Lawrence St.
More comments will be taken at that meeting.
Transit officials have said that the public bus service cannot sustain Sunday service, which is used by about 250 riders each week.
“Unless we look beyond the elimination of Sunday service, we'll find ourselves in the same fix we are in today come a year from now,” Todd Wexman told the board.
“Without cuts across the board — that is, the elimination of positions in operations and administration as well as cutbacks in capital expenditures — we'll not survive for long.”
Several of those who commented said they rely on Sunday buses to attend church.
“I know you have Transit's best interests at heart, but if you discontinue Sunday service, it will have a major impact on my life,” Darrell Conder said.
“Before you make this decision, I'd like you to make sure that cutting service is the only option and there are no other things to be cut.
“There are real people who will be hurt, and we'll be forced to walk or to go nowhere on Sunday.”
Rubert said the agency is working with area churches and plans to donate use of a bus so people can get to church Sundays.
Rider Lyle Courtsal said: “If you want to serve the people, you need to actually increase bus service, not cut it.
“We have an aging population, and as people get older, the more services they need.”
Courtsal also spoke out against the construction of the new service facility on land purchased using a Federal Transit Administration grant.
“It doesn't make sense to build a new facility to hold the buses that you aren't using on the routes you have discontinued,” he said.
Rubert said the facility was necessary because there are “major issues” with the current building, and it is inadequate to service the current fleet.
She also said if the facility is not built, the agency will have to return the $700,000 it has spent on the project so far.
For more information, visit www.jeffersontransit.com.
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.