Johnson County, city officials to discuss future of SEATS funding


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Following months of discussion, city officials will meet today to discuss funding in a setting that one supervisor hopes will create honest, helpful information.

City officials will meet with Johnson County Supervisors Janelle Rettig and Terrence Neuzil at 1 p.m. at the Coralville City Hall to discuss the future of SEATS.

Rettig said the county is picking up the tab for the service, while the cities have failed to invest in the program in appropriate proportions, creating funding uncertainty.  

“I hope the cities will recognize the fact that the county has had a blank check on SEATS, and we can’t afford to do that any more,” she said.

SEATS provides door-to-door transportation service for individuals with disabilities, senior citizens, or other Johnson County residents in need of assistance. The program has 23 buses, 10 of which are owned by Iowa City. Coralville owns three buses, and the East Central Iowa Council of Governments owns 10.

The cities in Johnson County are required by law to provide para-transit services in compliance with the American Disabilities Act.

But price increases in recent years has provided a financial burden for the county.

The cost to run the programs has increased over the last five years — the cost of fuel has risen 60 percent, and ridership has increased 20 percent, along with the costs of inflation.

In a letter addressed to the supervisors from the city mayors on March 1, the mayors requested that the county continue funding SEATS, but cut the amount by 50 percent.

The city officials hope for $305,000 in county subsidies during a five-year period.

Roughly $225,000 would support Iowa City riders, and the remainder would fund Coralville and North Liberty riders.

One mayor says he recognizes that costs will rise for all parties involved, but the extent of that increase is still unknown.

“I think the costs are going to go up, and we’re all going to have to pay a little more,” North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm said. “But where we’ll end up with the costs — we don’t know yet.”

Salm said that although the city doesn’t use SEATS as much as the other towns in the county, the community is growing.

“We’re going to see where it goes so we can budget in the future,” he said.

“We’ll continue to offer the program; it’s really just making sure we have enough money.”

But even with Salm’s recognition of the program’s funding needs, Rettig hopes the cities will enable progress with SEATS.

“I’m hopeful the cities will be a little more forthcoming with their own funds,” she said.

Because officials are uncertain about the funding of the program, SEATS Director Tom Brase continues to emphasize the importance of the program for the county and the cities within it.

“My hope is they find a mutual agreement so the service can be done efficiently, under one call center that keeps everyone’s cost lower,” he said. “They have to find some way so that everyone feels like they’re paying their share.”

He maintained that even as the economic factors create doubt about the importance of the program, it is a worthy service for the county.

“Every human being has the right to do what every one else is able to do,” Brase said.

“Special-needs people who depend us on don’t always have that ability to ride a fixed route or to get from one place to another. We’re filling that need.”

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