‘Black hole’ on transit is blasted
A highly critical Grass Valley City Council voted Tuesday to use the last of its local transportation money to help keep the Gold Country Stage and Telecare bus services running through the end of June.
In a symbolic gesture, the council even tried to withhold its money from the Gold Country Stage bus lines, instead giving their share of financing only to Telecare, which provides rides for residents with disabilities. However, the money will still go to both services because of county transportation rules.
The vote came after almost an hour of pointed comments and general criticism of Nevada County’s management of the transit system. As the only county transportation representative present, Transit Services manager Bill Derrick became a lightning rod for the council’s criticism.
Derrick told the council that despite earlier service cuts, the transit system faces a $100,000 operating deficit for the last six weeks of the fiscal year, which ends June 30.
To close the gap, the Nevada County Transportation Commission is seeking to allocate unspent local transportation funds from Grass Valley, Nevada City and the county. Grass Valley’s share is $24,258.
Councilwoman Linda Stevens said the money “keeps going into a black hole.” She said she is dismayed that the county hasn’t considered privatization or some other form of management that doesn’t involve county government.
Stevens then left the council chambers and didn’t return until after the vote because of what she called the appearance of a possible conflict of interests involving Telecare, stemming from a personal connection with one of the service’s officials.
Most of the council members expressed concern over the reduced operating hours of Telecare, the transit service for disabled residents. Originally budgeted for 3,300 hours a month, the service was cut to 2,300 hours and now 2,100 for the balance of the fiscal year.
“These are the most vulnerable people with the greatest need,” Councilman Steve Enos said. “They have to get to their doctor appointments.”
Mayor Patti Ingram said service is being cut at the time of the year when demand increases. “The peak time is here, and hours are needed.”
Derrick said the transit system can’t afford to pay for more than 2,100 hours of Telecare service per month and future funding doesn’t look good. “You pedal as fast as you can just to stay in place,” he said.
He also made it clear that if the city didn’t allocate the funds, the Transit Services Division would have to suspend at least some services for the rest of the fiscal year.
The council wanted to earmark the city’s money for Telecare service, but Derrick said the county transportation commission has stipulated the funds be used to maintain existing levels of bus and paratransit service.
But on the motion of Councilman Gerard Tassone, the council voted 3-1 to earmark the $24,258 for Telecare service anyway. Tassone, Enos and Vice Mayor Devere “Dee” Mautino voted yes, while Ingram voted no.
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