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Johnson County supervisors outline potential SEATS compromises

BY QUENTIN MISIAG | MARCH 29, 2013 5:00 AM

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Despite a hotly debated Wednesday afternoon meeting at the Coralville City Hall over the future of SEATS, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors remain confident that a deal can soon be reached with Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty — ultimately keeping the more than 40-year service alive.

The supervisors summarized the discussions and resulting compromises they hope can lead to the end of months-long debate over the para-transit service at their Thursday meeting.

Supervisor Rod Sullivan said that despite the initial agreements, he remains particularly frustrated with communication with one city in particular.

“I am very pleased that we are meeting with North Liberty, but I just wish we could meet with Iowa City,” Sullivan said. “There are 68,000 residents in Iowa City who also live in the county, and we can’t sit down in a joint meeting?”  

Sullivan remained firm in his belief that at least one joint meeting among area city officials should be required. No supervisor opposed such a move.

Citing rising costs and budget limitations, the supervisors have called for an end in subsidy funding for the program serving the area’s two largest cities. In a March 1 letter addressed to the supervisors from area mayors, they requested that the county continue funding the SEATS program but cut the amount by 50 percent.

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.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said she believes that with the current accounting numbers that have been combed over and developed by SEATS Director Tom Brase, the quality of service and ridership shouldn’t have to change.

“I just want this program to continue, for it to be reliable, and for this agitation and stress to end,” Rettig said.

Current terms call for the county to provide $200,000 in SEATS funding per year, with a 3 percent cap on subsidies. All five supervisors were in favor of the $200,000 mark, and Supervisors Sullivan, Pat Harney, and Terrence Neuzil spoke in favor of a five-year contract with local municipalities.

Additionally, if a new agreement is reached, all five supervisors came to the conclusion that the three cities would be required to provide their own “bumper-to bumper” maintenance and pay all matching funds on their respective para-transit buses. In the past, matching funds were paid with out of the pocket of SEATS.

During the most recent fiscal year, SEATS had an operating budget of $2.3 million, an increase of approximately $900,000 from just six years ago.

Iowa City officials said at the Wednesday afternoon meeting that they have budgeted $1.2 million for para-transit services.  However, the announcement by Coralville leaders to pay $200,000 for service drew Rettig’s ire.

“I actually think Coralville is not paying enough in,” she said.

As discussions came to a close, Neuzil said it appears the service will continue, and he hopes that the aforementioned funding to be allocated to local municipalities will result in the continuation of quality service.

“I think the riders expect a certain level of service,” he said. “If we’re going to give [Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty] that much money, I would expect the service to remain the same. I think the message is that SEATS is here to stay.”

Iowa City resident Bob Welsh said he believed although he was unclear about the elimination of half-fare rides, he thought Neuzil and Rettig represented the face of the county well during Wednesday afternoon’s joint meeting.

“My interest is solely and completely preserving the service that people currently have,” he said.


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