City OKs regional transit board

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners gave their official approval to creation of a regional transportation board on Tuesday — but it was a close call.

The vote was 3-2, with mayor John Matta and commissioner Wynn Butler voting no on the basis that they felt more information was needed.

Flint Hills Regional Council planner Gary Stith said that the board would have six voting members: a public official from each of the five governments in the metropolitan area as well as one from Kansas State University —along with a non-voting member from Fort Riley.

However, he said that K-State officials were still checking to see if the university could participate as a voting member on a public board.

Matta also objected to the proposed board because he said that public transportation was not profitable.

“I’ve actually gone out of my way to keep the city out of the public transportation system,” he said. “It’s what I campaigned on. Public transportation is not profitable.”

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said that she was confident that city manager Ron Fehr and city attorney Bill Raymond would make sure the city would not be obligated to carry any debt or financial burden from the creation of the board.

Stith said that the board would not have any ability to levy taxes or force any of the participating bodies — Junction City, Geary County, Riley County, Pottawatomie County and Manhattan — to contribute financially to public transportation.

He said that the board would operate as a facilitator, providing a means to receive funding from the Federal Transit Administration. It would be up to a service provider to come up with the matching funds.

Also, the board would use the Flint Hills Regional Council as a financial and administrative arm of the board to handle the fund distributions, as it currently does for the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Stith said that local service providers could access up to $1 million a year in federal funding for fixed bus routes within the urbanized area, which includes Junction City; parts of Geary, Riley and Pottawatomie counties; Manhattan; Fort Riley and Blue Township.

It would also allow fixed routes that begin and end in Manhattan to receive funding.

Stith said that the split for federal funds would be 80-20 for most operations, with the federal government paying 80 percent. However, he said that bike racks on buses and handicap ramps qualified for a more generous split, with the government paying 90 percent of the costs.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said that he wanted the transit board member from Manhattan to be someone other than the MPO member, thus creating create a “Chinese wall” between the MPO and the transportation board. Jankovich noted that public perception could turn negative with the same member sitting on both boards.

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