By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The board voted 4-1 Tuesday to end the service because of lower-than-expected sales tax revenue projections.
“We thought the economy was going to turn around,” said Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin, a board member.
“We looked for other alternatives and didn't go into this lightly but decided to take an action that allows us to serve 96 percent of our ridership.”
Austin, along with fellow county Commissioners David Sullivan and Phil Johnson and Port Townsend City Councilwoman Catharine Robinson, voted in favor of curtailing the service, while City Councilman Bob Gray was opposed.
The system initially projected $3,350,000 from a sales tax hike of 0.3 percent, which voters passed in 2011 and which was intended to preserve bus services, but newer projections revised the number to $3,190,785.
Sunday transit service cost $200,000 a year, which is the approximate difference between the two projections.
The cutback will eliminate both regular Sunday bus service and Dial-A-Ride. Combined, they are used by 4 percent of riders, the agency reported.
Gray had proposed a compromise that eliminated the regular service but kept Dial-A-Ride, which would have saved $135,000.
“I think by eliminating Sunday [service], we are denying service to the people who need it most,” Gray said.
“And it will also hurt the town since a lot of people walk off the ferry and want to get to Fort Worden and will have no way to get there if the buses aren't running.”
Gray is displeased about discontinuing the service for another reason.
Voters approved the 2011 sales tax increase to prevent service cutbacks, so any such action goes back on the agency's word, he said.
“We lose credibility if we tell voters their support will save service and then we cancel it,” he said.
Jefferson Transit Executive Director Tammy Rubert said the sales tax increase was intended to prevent cutbacks but that there were no absolute guarantees.
“When we passed the measure, we expected the new sales tax would sustain service,” Rubert said.
“The reality was that the sales tax has not come in.”
Austin said: “Any budget is a prediction of what we think is going to happen.
“There is a recognition that we need to keep our reserves at a level where we could deal with emergencies.”
Austin said Jefferson Transit was the last regional public bus service to offer Sunday service. Kitsap, Clallam, Mason and Island counties no longer offer it, he added.
The decision followed a series of public meetings that included testimony from riders, some in wheelchairs, about the importance of Sunday service.
“We did listen to all of the people and took their statements into account,” Rubert said.
“We are now working with other agencies and churches to provide some manner of Sunday service and fill in the gap.”
If sales tax revenues rebound, the service could be restored, she said.
“This is a disappointment and will affect a lot of people,” said Alice Lane, a union representative and driver who has a non-voting position on the transit board.
“We were hoping they had a Plan B, but they didn't.”
“I see the faces of who it's going to affect.
“I know where they are going and when they are going. It will be an inconvenience for sure.”
Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at email@example.com.