Save The JO – Transit Advocates Speak Up At The JoCo Public Budget Hearing
Posted by Transit Action Network on July 26, 2012
The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners probably got a surprise at the Public Budget Hearing Monday night. Nine of the eleven people who testified at the hearing did so because of the transit budget and proposed plans to eliminate or reduce 90% of The JO routes in 2013. Unfortunately for transit riders, participation was very difficult since the Johnson County Administration Building is hard to get to on transit and it is impossible to use transit to get home afterwards.
The Commissioners heard a wide range of perspectives and concerns but they all agreed on one point – find the money to keep The JO running. Speakers were concerned about job losses, the environment, the elderly and disabled, social equity issues, the potential of losing the young professional class of workers, the County’s failure to honor its commitment to replace federal CMAQ funds and much more. Two of the testimonies are posted on our Save the Jo Facebook event page. The whole budget hearing is posted on the county website The individual testimonies start after the County Managers presentation at the 19 minute mark. The County Manager makes it very clear that Johnson County has the lowest mill levy in Kansas. Not having money for transit and other services in Johnson County is a self-imposed austerity. According to the County Manager, Johnson Countians pay an average of .58 percent of their household income on county taxes.
The operating cost for the current 20 routes is $5.7 million* with only $2 million coming from the county and the County Commission is currently saying they can’t afford any more than that. Of course, not all of the Commissioners agree. The JO riders pay over $1.1 million of the service. Of course that number will go down if nine routes are eliminated. The rest, $2.6 million, is federal and state money. Much of this large subsidy is going to disappear over the next two years but currently the Commission doesn’t plan to replace it. Normally the bulk of transit operating expenses has to come from local sources.
A lot of the federal money is related to federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) funds used as seed money to start the CONNEX routes. The federal government doesn’t normally pay operating expenses. After three years the CMAQ money is finished and the money has to be replaced locally to keep the routes.
The Commission understands it commitment to replace the CMAQ funds for new routes with additional money. In previous administrations the Commission has been fiscally responsible and provided those new funds. This time the Commission is keeping the CONNEX routes and spending $10.7 million of additional federal money for major infrastructure improvements for this service through a TIGER grant, but they aren’t adding the new operating money. We don’t think that is a fiscally responsible decision. If the Commission wasn’t going to provide the operating cost for the CONNEX routes, they shouldn’t have started the routes and applied for the TIGER grant. As a result, it appears that many routes must be eliminated or reduced to make up the difference. The CONNEX is potentially a great new service but the County needs to pay for it without dismantling The JO.
JO ridership is growing by 12%. While an increasing number of county residents are opting for public transportation, Johnson County Commissioners are dismantling what little transit is left. While the one-occupant car may be the current transportation mode of choice, you don’t need to look out very far to see fuel supply constraints, worse traffic congestion and more air pollution – none of which enhances the view of Johnson County as a quiet refuge for those seeking tree-lined streets, responsive government and effective planning.
For perspective on the county’s funding commitment to transit, the Kansas City, MO contract with KCATA this year is over $46 million. The residents of KCMO have a 7/8-cent sales tax to provide transit. JoCo residents pay extremely little in property tax to get the JO.
Johnson County prides itself on education, infrastructure and services but if you want transit you have to pay for it. Johnson County deserves a real transit system that stands a chance of winning people out of their cars. Tomorrow, we’ll post a video about a real solution for a comprehensive county-wide transit system. A plan already exists that was created just for Johnson County by Johnson County residents.
The deadline for public comment is July 30, 2012. Please speak up for transit.
Contact Johnson County Board of County Commissioners
- 1. Phone: 913-715-0430
- 2. Email contact form: http://bocc.jocogov.org/webform/contact-us
Contact Johnson County Transit
- E-mail: Comments@thejo.com
- Mail: Johnson County Transit, 1701 West 56 Highway, Olathe, Kansas 66061
- Phone: 913-715-8255 – record your message
*Figures are based on the Johnson County Transportation Council meeting packet for April 2012.
Powerpoint presentation JO Proposed Eliminations and Reductions – Public Meeting 7-11-12