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Friday, July 16, 2004


Transit funding stirs debate

Ketchum officials want Hailey, Bellevue to ante up

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum City Council members this week issued a mandate of sorts to the leaders of Hailey and Bellevue, asking them to put forth greater financial support for public transit in the Wood River Valley.

In a lively discussion that saw Councilman Baird Gourlay say its "ridiculous" that Ketchum pays up to 15 times more than the city of Hailey to subsidize the Peak Bus commuter service, council members took a long, hard look at how they want public transit to evolve in Blaine County.

Rider numbers on the Ketchum Area Rapid Transit bus lines are up 20 percent this year, compared to the relatively low rider numbers tallied in 2003. Express photo by David N. Seelig

The discussion came Tuesday, July 13, as council members discussed funding proposals for the Peak Bus and Ketchum Area Rapid Transit bus lines.

The council this month is engaging in a series of discussions aimed at refining the city’s proposed 2004-2005 fiscal year budget.

KART, which is funded largely with local-option-tax revenues from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley, has requested approximately $481,000 from Ketchum for the coming fiscal year. The figure is a 3 percent increase over the funding provided for the current fiscal year.

With KART director Terry Crawford stating that rider numbers are up 20 percent this year, council members indicated they are inclined to provide the requested funding.

However, during a discussion of funding for the Peak Bus and Wood River Rideshare—the commuter-service organization that manages the Peak Bus for Blaine County—council members expressed concern that Rideshare is not receiving adequate countywide support to improve the commuter-bus program.

The Peak Bus since June 2002 has provided low-cost transportation between Bellevue and the Ketchum-Sun Valley area, mainly during peak commuting hours.

Rideshare Executive Director Beth Callister has requested $38,500 for her organization, plus $30,000 to offset costs of operating the Peak Bus. In addition, she asked the city for $26,000 over the next two years to put towards a federal matching grant that could pay for a new 40-passenger bus and 10 bus-passenger shelters.

Council President Randy Hall said he wants to see a long-range plan developed to expand and improve the Peak Bus system.

"I think it’s time the program evolved one way or another," he said.

Gourlay, Councilwoman Terry Tracy and Mayor Ed Simon joined Hall in asking whether $2,000 from the city of Hailey to support the bus is an adequate amount.

"We’re a beneficiary, but I think we have an unfair burden of funding placed upon us," Simon said.

Crawford noted that Idaho legislators next year could consider a new law that would allow Blaine County to assess a local transportation tax to promote transit systems. He warned, however, that the law, if passed, would not provide any new funds to Blaine County for some two years.

Callister called for a greater commitment to public transit from all government agencies in the county, instead of waiting for the state "to pass some miracle funding plan."

Simon said he supports funding Rideshare and the Peak Bus but is not inclined to provide the requested $26,000 for Peak Bus capital improvements.


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