Transit Board weighs potential sales tax to save weekend bus service

Members of the Grays Harbor Transit Board discussed how to cut $800,000 from their operating budget in the face of declining grant funds, whether to do away with weekend service altogether or maybe even go to the public for a vote to increase the sales tax.

The only firm decision the board made on Tuesday was to get more input from the public. Two community meetings have been set for 2 p.m. Thursday, June 20; and 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 25. Both meetings have been tentatively set for Aberdeen City Hall, which is right on a bus route for those who transit service in order to attend. Board members met at the offices of Grays Harbor Transit, where a few dozen members of the public attended. Several got to the meeting using a bus or a dial-a-ride service. The Transit Board is made up of Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson, Hoquiam Mayor Jack Durney, Westport Mayor Michael Bruce and the three county commissioners — Wes Cormier, Frank Gordon and Herb Welch.

Bob Nakutin of Hoquiam told board members that if they can’t find the cuts they need, they should go to the voters for a sales tax increase. Transit Director Mark Carlin said a one-tenth of one percent increase would generate $800,211, enough to stave off any kind of cuts.

“We’ve had problems in the past and we’ve put it to the voters,” Nakutin told the board. “I don’t know what the magic formula is but I think it’s only fair for the people to get to decide this.”

Mayor Bruce and Commissioner Gordon both agreed with the potential to send a sales tax increase to the voters. Mayor Durney and Commissioner Welch were more hesitant, pointing out that the soonest it could go on the ballot is November and if the voters reject the measure, then Transit will be hurting even more, needing to find more cuts in a quicker period of time. Commissioner Cormier and Simpson were quiet on the subject.

Carlin recommended eliminating weekend service altogether, which would eliminate seven full-time positions and one part-time position and impact 150,000 riders. Carlin also proposed a second plan, which would keep some aspects of weekend service and eliminate more rides in the day, but it would end some bus routes earlier in the day. The latest bus route to East County would be at 5:30 p.m., Carlin pointed out under that scenario. That would affect 205,000 people and eliminate eight full-time positions. Welch said he really didn’t like any of the proposals and directed Carlin to come up with more options, including one that specifically focuses on keeping bus service for those who need it to go to work earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon.

“Get rid of everything in between, but we need to keep people working,” Welch said.

Carlin said he would also review a proposal to just eliminate services on Sundays and do a scattered amount of daily runs as an option.

Dana Regan of Hoquiam told board members she’s confined to a wheelchair and took a bus to the meeting. Without weekend service, she says, “that’s insane. We won’t even be able to see our friends. People will lose their jobs.” Another woman with five kids said she depends on the bus for her work and she believed she would lose her job.

“I don’t know what I’ll do,” she told the board.

Board members say they’ll make a decision by their July meeting.