WATERVILLE — Maine contributes about $1 per capita in operating assistance to public transportation programs, which is a lot less than the national average of $45 per capita and while ridership is increasing in Waterville, funding has not.

With that in mind, Jim Wood, transportation development director for Kennebec Valley Community Action Program, sat before the City Council Tuesday to ask that the city increase its annual bus program contribution from $6,100 to $10,000.

The council workshop was scheduled to discuss revenues, capital improvements, debt service and KVCAP transportation service. About 20 people sat in the audience for the meeting, also attended by Mayor Nick Isgro, City Manager Michael Roy and Finance Director Heather Rowden.

Wood, who has worked with the city for 44 years as a KVCAP representative, said the agency has two transportation systems — the Kennebec Explorer, which is available to the general public and costs $1.25 per ride within the city, $3.50 to go to Augusta, and $1.50 to go to Fairfield.

KV Van, which goes door-to-door, mostly for health care-related trips, including for MaineCare recipients and state Department of Health & Human Services child protection matters. Most rides are for people with low income.

Kennebec Explorer gets some federal and state funding and receives local matches, he said.

In 2011, the Explorer gave 44,000 rides and last year, 103,000, according to Wood.

Public transportation, he said, is important, as it provides transportation for those who are elderly — and Maine has the eldest per-capita population in the U.S. — particularly those who can no longer drive. It gives people rides to work, medical appointments, recreational activities and educational events, he said.

“It helps people stay healthy and active in communities, without having to have a car,” he said.

Waterville has funded KVCAP transportation at the same amount — $6,100 — for about the last 15 years and costs, including for fuel and maintenance are rising, according to Wood.

Last year, 19,000 rides were provided and of that number, 1,800 included the need for use of a bus ramp or lift, he said.

Wood said KVCAP has a vision of being a community where people want to move and where a transportation system works for everyone. He said the city would make a good investment in the community by increasing its contribution from $6,100 to $10,000.

Isgro said he appreciates the KVCAP transportation service but wanted to know if KVCAP had considered changing its fee schedule so that people truly in need pay only $1.25 per ride within the city and people who could afford more pay $5.

“We’re asking one portion of the community to subsidize another portion of the community,” Isgro said.

Wood said he understood what Isgro was saying and fare schedules are advertised and could be changed but he did not think that would be the appropriate way to go.

“We could make it more complicated but it really wouldn’t benefit most of the members of the community that use it,” Wood said.

He said that even a 25 percent increase in fares can present a hardship for riders. Isgro asked if additional funds would mean increased hours for transportation.

“We’re struggling right now, just to sustain the system that we have,” Wood replied.

Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, asked what Augusta pays to KVCAP for transportation.

Wood said that city contributes $30,000 a year. He said MaineGeneral and Inland Hospital contribute a lot of money as well.

“We’re asking everybody to give a little more because it is an important service,” he said.

Waterville’s current proposed municipal and school budget for 2018-19 is $42.3 million. The proposed school budget is $24 million and the proposed municipal budget is $18.3 million. If the budget were approved as is, the tax rate would increase from $23.30 per $1,000 worth of valuation to $26.30 per $1,000; but the budget is expected to end up being less than what is proposed.

The workshop comes nearly two weeks after Mayor Nick Isgro claimed councilors were working quietly behind the scenes to craft a budget that represents a 13 percent tax increase over the current budget and that the council had been using an effort to recall him from office as a distraction from work on the city budget. He said “political elites both on the city council and behind the scenes are colluding with political parties and special interest groups from outside Waterville” on the budget proposal and a tax increase. “They are all working to distract the public and the media from their budget scheme with their effort to remove me from office so I can’t veto it,” Isgro wrote.

Roy and Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, disputed those claims last week, saying Isgro’s statement was false — that the council was still in the workshop phase of the budget and no numbers had been decided. The proposed municipal budget at this point is Roy’s budget, meaning his recommendation, and councilors make the final decision on the budget.

Councilors Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, and Jackie Dupont, D-Ward 7, said after Isgro’s Facebook claim that they had not been working quietly on a budget proposal with a proposed 13 percent increase — that they had been attending budget workshops, which are open to the public, and listening to department proposals, and no budget decision had been made.

A budget summary workshop scheduled for May 29 is billed as the final budget workshop, but councilors have the authority to call additional budget workshops, according to Roy. The council could propose changes to the budget on May 29, he said.

Right now, the council is scheduled to take a first vote on the proposed budget June 5 and a final vote June 19, but those dates could change if the council decides to schedule more budget workshops after May 29, Roy said Monday.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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