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3:48 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

CYMPO looks at tax increase to fund public transit system

PRESCOTT -  A new study on transit could help the local transportation-planning organization determine whether to pursue a tax increase aimed at generating a steady flow of revenue.

The executive board of the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO) agreed Wednesday night that its staff should compile a scope of work for a new study on public transit.

That, in turn, likely will lead to a study that would take a look at the need for transit in the community, as well as a funding source to help pay for it.

The board, which is made up of officials from local governments, agreed that money has been the main challenge for the development of a public bus system in the community.

To overcome that, officials discussed the possibility of going to the voters in about 2016 with a property tax increase. The goal: To raise enough money to augment the federal transit grants that are available.

Over the past several decades, transit has been a recurring issue for local officials. It once again generated plenty of discussion this week.

Ron Romley, president of the Yavapai Regional Transit (YRT) system, led off with an update on the existing transit program.

Overseen largely by volunteers, the system has been operating buses since about 2009, and currently transports about 4,000 passengers per year between and within Chino Valley and Prescott.

Although Romley said the system has accomplished much of what it said it would do by this point, he acknowledged that it has yet to add service to Prescott Valley. That is among the next steps for the system, he said.

"We've ordered a fourth bus," Romley said. "Hopefully, we're going to be able to get into Prescott Valley soon. That will tie the whole tri-city area together."

Even so, Romley emphasized that the organization struggles to come up with the money necessary to match the federal grant. While Yavapai County and the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe have contributed ($10,000 and $12,000, respectively), Romley said none of the municipalities have pitched in.

"To do the match, we really need a sustainable amount," said Romley, who pointed out that next year's federal grant would total about $658,000. The organization will have to come up with a match of about $171,000, he said, which can be a combination of money and contributions (in-kind) of services.

Prescott Valley Public Works Director Norm Davis told the board that the town "applauds" the effort to expand the regional transit system. But, he said, "We're cautioning that we need a sustainable funding source."

To do that, Davis said, "Let's take a plan to the public."

Several members of the audience offered feedback as well.

Steve Silvernale, whose Prescott Transit Authority operates the Prescott Citibus, questioned the need for another study. "The first study I participated in was 1975," he said. "There have been somewhere in the neighborhood of eight studies since then."

Of the latest study, he said, "Are we going to be spending that money for no reason? I think we would."

Silvernale also questioned the per-ride cost of YRT, maintaining that the $650,000 cost for 4,000 riders is "pretty expensive."

But Gail Kenny, a member of the YRT's 501c4 board, said transit is a basic need in the community. "There are certain things you do in your community because they're needed," Kenny said, referring to other features such as roads and schools. "They're not going to pay for themselves."

And of the need for public transit, Kenny, who is the executive director of Prescott's Coalition for Compassion and Justice, said, "Our communities need it. I see people struggling to get to work."

CYMPO board members expressed some desire to finally resolve the matter.

"We talk about transit a lot," said Mary Mallory, a member of the Prescott Valley Town Council. "We need to finish it and move on."

CYMPO Administrator Chris Bridges said the study likely would cost about $100,000. Much of the money is available in CYMPO's budget, and the remainder could come from the Northern Arizona Council of Governments, he said.

The board unanimously voted to proceed with the scope of work, and the matter likely will be back on future CYMPO agendas for consideration of the study contract.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.