The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly cut its support for the Central Area Rural Transit System out of its Fiscal Year 2017 budget.
The borough has given funding to the nonprofit since 2001 in support of its operations. The organization, abbreviated to CARTS, provides door-to-door public transportation for a fee to riders who have registered accounts with it. Riders have to notify CARTS 24 hours ahead of time and be ready to go within 15 minutes on either side of the scheduled pickup time.
The funds from the borough are used to support CARTS operations and leveraged to apply for federal grants, said CARTS Executive Director Jennifer Beckmann in an email. The borough only removed $50,000 in direct funding, but without the leverage, CARTS will lose approximately $119,328. The nonprofit depends on federal and state grants to operate. Only about one-fifth of its approximately $1 million budget comes from program service fees, while the remainder comes from contributions and grants.
“The reduction in borough support means CARTS will not be able to provide 6,400 trips next year that we provided this year,” Beckmann wrote in the email.
Assembly member Stan Welles brought forward an amendment to the borough’s FY2017 budget to zero out the borough’s support for CARTS, along with two other economic development organizations. The assembly voted to maintain the funding for the other two, the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council, but eliminated the funding for CARTS by a 6–3 vote.
Welles brought forward the amendment because he wanted to cut some spending from the budget, while other assembly members supported it for different reasons.
Assembly member Brandii Holmdahl said she supported cutting the funding for CARTS because she did not want to use borough-wide funding for a service that does not reach the entire peninsula.
Others had stronger words, such as assembly member Dale Bagley, who said he supported pulling the funding because he did not agree with the way the organization was being run.
“One of the things I have wrestled with on this is that I have been very unhappy with the leadership there, and I don’t think I can bring myself to vote for money for CARTS anymore until there has been a change,” Bagley said.
Assembly member Kelly Cooper of Homer said she was disappointed in CARTS’ responses to the assembly’s concerns, and though she did not want to zero out the funding, she said she did not support the program itself.
“We can appropriate the funds, but we could certainly direct the mayor to have a tighter monitoring on that department and make sure that all the areas that need the funding are getting it,” Cooper said. “I am not supporting this amendment now, but I do have to say that I have strong concerns and am not in support of the program in the way it’s being run right now.”
Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said he understood the concerns about the way the program is being run but that he thought the assembly ought to preserve the funding.
“While I think there are some problems with CARTS, there’s no question that residents of the Kenai borough, many of them in great need, get a service in excess of the $50,000 that we give to CARTS,” Navarre said. “If the funds are appropriated, they do not have to be expended by the administration.” There have been concerns from the community as well regarding the way CARTS applied for funding from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities this year.
Due to the reduction in state funds, CARTS received its funding, but the Independent Living Center’s taxi voucher program did not receive any.
There was confusion with the way projects in the community were supposed to be prioritized and submitted to the state — other applicants did not think the projects had to be ranked in priority.
Because CARTS was listed first this year, it received the funding, and the Independent Living Center did not.
CARTS is the lead agency in the prioritization process because no one else has stepped up to be, Beckmann said.
In the past, ILC’s projects have been listed first. The fact that CARTS’ projects were listed first this year was chance and it could have worked out the other way, she said. CARTS will work with ILC and other members of the coordinating committee to provide transportation, she said.
“The project list was submitted the same way it has been done in previous applications, which no one had any complaints with how it was done in prior years,” Beckmann said. “Still, the prioritization list doesn’t address the real issue — that there just isn’t enough money to go around to fund every project here locally or across the state.”
She said she wished assembly members could have come to CARTS before the meeting to discuss their concerns.
“If we had known that they had these concerns we could have addressed them and would have been able to explain how our organization runs as well as the benefits it provides to the communities we serve,” Beckmann said.
Elizabeth Earl is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.