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IC, Coralville may have to pick up SEATS tab

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | JANUARY 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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With rising costs and budget limitations, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors woiuld like to end subsidy funding for the SEATS para-transit system serving the area’s two largest cities — but city officials remain confident that some version of the program will continue in the coming fiscal year.

With city and county leaders facing a looming impasse over handicap-accessible transportation, the transportation staple could soon be discontinued. Contracts are set to expire June 30, and residents of Iowa City and Coralville who are in need of transportation services may lose the long-standing stability and availability synonymous with SEATS in favor of potentially less detailed operations.

In operation since the 1970s, SEATS provides door-to-door rides to individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, and other people in need of assistance accessing medical clinics, grocery stores, and other destinations. During the most recent fiscal year, SEATS had a operating budget of $2.3 million, an increase of approximately $900,000 from just six years ago.

“We do not have any desire to discontinue SEATS; however, we just can’t afford to subsidize [Iowa City and Coralville] anymore,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said during Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “Johnson County has a rich and robust history of funding health and human services … SEATS is a lifeline for a lot of people.”

Citing a 7.5 percent increase in ridership — particularly in Iowa City — over the past fiscal year, Sullivan said roughly two-thirds of the 112,000 individual county-wide rides were from Iowa City and Coralville residents in need of assistance.

He also outlined the use of tax-increment financing by area cities to help spur development as a secondary result that has caused revenue to be diverted away from the hands of the county.

“The responsibility of this service is not the county’s. It’s the cities’,” he said. “We don’t have the tax base to [fund] it.”

The standard cost for a one-way ride is $2 for any rural, Iowa City, or University Heights one-way trips and $1.50 for Coralville and North Liberty trips. Iowa City residents who take rides that originate in Iowa City have a reduced fare of $1. Aside from having contracts with Iowa City and Coralville, SEATS works alongside East Central Iowa Council of Governments and Pathways as well.
SEATS operates approximately 25 para-transit buses. Both the City of Iowa City and Coralville are mandated by the Federal Transit Administration to provide para-transit services for residents in need. In fiscal 2012, Johnson County funded $599,274 to Iowa City and Coralville. Iowa City received $461,319.17, Coralville $137,954.99.

Iowa City Director of Transportation Services Chris O’Brien said city officials are busy trying to find funding to ensure a para-transit system exists in the fiscal 2014 budget.

“We’ve been very happy with the service SEATS has provided,” he said. “Iowa City and the Corridor in general are known for the transportation provided. We carry more than 6 million trips a year between Cambus, Coralville, Iowa City, and SEATS. What we don’t want is for riders to be scared about not having service. It can’t happen, and it won’t.”

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett echoed the thoughts of Iowa City officials by pointing out that if SEATS ceases operations in the city, para-transit offerings will not disappear.

“If SEATS no longer exists, we’ll make some other cut arrangements because we need a service,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who need this service, and we will certainly will provide that. The county has to prepare its budget and make its priorities where it sees fit. If it doesn’t put its priority in SEATS, Iowa City and Coralville will have to make the arrangements.”


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