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Debate over Johnson County SEATS funding heats up

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MARCH 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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A hand-delivered letter to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors seems to have local municipalities and county officials further divided over the future of the SEATS para-transit program.

The three-page letter, issued by the officials from Iowa City, North Liberty, and Coralville, concedes that although para-transit ridership and costs have risen, they are nowhere near the level that supervisors have publicly expressed.

City officials also outlined the importance of moving forward with “… intergovernmental matters cooperatively in a civil and productive fashion that will yield the most efficient and responsible services for our citizens.”

SEATS has provided door-to-door rides since the 1970s to individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, and other people in need of assistance accessing medical clinics, grocery stores, and other destinations.

Johnson County officials have proposed cutting the general levy funding for SEATS, in turn placing much of the cost burden on Iowa City.

In a supervisors’ meeting Thursday, Supervisors Janelle Rettig and Rod Sullivan criticized city officials for a lack of communication regarding cuts to SEATS funding.

“They were completely unresponsive until our budget meeting last night,” Rettig said. “It is a three-page letter that says nothing about the [SEATS] contract. In September, we told them there would be no subsidy [funding] for SEATS. Whatever [Iowa City Mayor] Matt Hayek said last night didn’t make mathematical sense to me.”

Along with criticizing city officials, Sullivan attacked local media outlets for misconstruing the county’s side of the story.

“There’s a bigger picture here [that the cities and media] act like doesn’t exist,” he said. “They did a nice job of quoting Iowa City but not us. They continue to print the thoughts of the mayor of Iowa City. I just wish that concern over SEATS would spill over into the big picture.”

Although calls to Hayek were not returned as of Thursday evening, Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton said it’s extremely important to provide high-quality para-transit service to disabled individuals who need it.

“We have to focus on the problem that we share and try and solve it in a mutually satisfactory way,” he said. “Iowa City has good reasons to believe the county should continue to provide financial support.”

North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm said although his municipality only averages 15 SEATS rides per month, he believes North Liberty will continue to gain prominence in local politics as the population grows. He defended Coralville and Iowa City officials in their stance on para-transit funding.

“[City officials] just think the supervisors have gone a little overboard with funding,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of skin in the game yet, but someday we will … The cities are willing to have some increases but they think that the increases that the county is proposing is too high.”

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett said he is unaware of prior attempts by the county to contact the city because he hasn’t been previously involved. Although he is confident in a strong para-transit service continuing, he believes the county should still be able to allocate funding for SEATS.

“I just think it’s entirely up to the supervisors to set their priorities and allocate their funding,” he said. “I do, however, think they should be able to allocate funding to where they have provided funding in the past. I don’t think it’s right for public officials to put this on the shoulders of the users.”


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