Supervisors approve SEATS contract with Iowa City


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After discussing the future of a local paratransit service for a number of months, Johnson County officials and service users can now rest a little bit easier.

During a Thursday morning county Board of Supervisors’ meeting, the five-member panel unanimously approved a contract with the city of Iowa City for a transportation service for elderly and disabled people of some variety.

The vote, and the resulting contract that begins July 1, now means that the county will keep the more than 30-year-old SEATS paratransit program afloat for area residents.  

Officials in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty have long mulled how much the county should foot the bill.

In fiscal 2012, Johnson County provided $257,657 in funding from the general levy for paratransit services. To date, the service 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.

Thursday’s contract calls for the county to pay the city of Iowa City $154,000 next fiscal year and follows Tuesday’s approved contract by the Iowa City City Council. As the current agreement stands, Sunday service and discounted fares in the city limits would be eliminated at the end of September.

In fiscal 2012, the organization’s operating budget was $2.3 million; it has increased $900,00 over the past six years.

Although the supervisors iterated that they do not support the cuts, the final decision, they said, came down to the City Council.

“I think our options here are somewhat limited if we didn’t do something now, because the City Council would’ve cut into other [funded] areas,” Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said.

For Supervisor Pat Harney, the current agreements still lack in certain areas.

“I see this as getting more complicated,” he said. “I think we should be pressing more to provide more dollars [to users].”

A county-Coralville contract, in which the county sets aside $46,000 a year, is anticipated to be approved sometime next week. The neighboring municipality, which also provides service to North Liberty residents, has said it is looking into nixing Sunday service all together.

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.  Approximately 90 percent of SEATS riders meet the income qualifications for half fares, which cost $1 for a one-way ride.

Bob Welsh, the head of the Johnson County Task Force on Aging, said the new agreement is still disappointing.

“I found myself thinking, ‘Boy, this is the decision you should make,’ ” he told the supervisors. “But I realize that at this point, you want to get on with other business.”

Nonetheless, Rettig said, although not every party can be completely satisfied, she stands by the county’s role.

“We made a big move here,” she said. “Let’s hope the cities can do that, too.”

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