delgazette.com

Helen M. Shirley

December 1, 2011

KATE LIEBERS

Staff Writer

Surprised by the local transportation service’s $53,000 request, an expenditure not included in the original 2012 budget proposal, Delaware City council members voiced their concerns.

“I feel like if we’re not able to somehow come up with this money, that’s an unfair burden to place on us,” said councilwoman Lisa Keller. “This wasn’t even in our planning process for the budget.”

The request came as a shock because Delaware Area Transit Authority (DATA)’s former requests were a fraction of what it currently seeks — hovering around $5,000 to $7,500.

Last year, DATA asked for no financial support from the city, even when council set aside money for the agency, said councilman and financial committee chairman Andrew Brush.

DATA Executive Director Denny Schooley anticipated council’s surprise.

“Probably when you first got that, it was sticker shock,” he said.

Schooley recalled a time when the agency originally asked the city for $35,000, but the city said that $5,000 was all the budget could handle. From that point on, amounts revolving around that figure became the standard request.

This year, however, a new formula allowed DATA to divvy its funding requests according to those who use its services the most, Schooley said.

“Yours is the highest request,” Schooley said to council. “The only thing I can figure is that everyone wants to be in Delaware.”

Delaware city riders generated a request that’s several thousands of dollars greater than the 24 other areas DATA services. The city’s share of $53,000 compares to a total request of nearly $80,000.

The requests for the other townships and municipalities range from about $35 to $6,700. The average request (not including the one for Delaware City) is less than $1,200. Keller was concerned that DATA would need to ask the other areas for more money if Delaware City did not comply with the full request, but Schooley said this was not the case.

“(DATA) will not go back to the municipalities to ask for more,” he said. “We will continue to operate within our needs.”

This would mean denying more transportation, said Schooley. This year, DATA has denied almost 1,300 rides, he said.

Ridership trends seem to be on the upswing, with figures more than double what they were six years ago.

Using actual and projected figures for 2011, DATA expects to complete more than 68,500 one-way trips. In 2009, DATA completed about 42,150 trips.

As DATA has grown in its 14 years, it has never had a committed source of funding.

Most of the money supporting DATA’s $1.5-million 2011 operating budget comes from the federal government, said Schooley.

The federal funds require a local match, he added.

“When we get a dollar locally, we get a dollar federally,” said Schooley. “So the local dollars become extremely important for us.”

Schooley suggested that agency is avoiding seeking a sales tax, which is a source of funding for other transit systems. In addition to seeking assistance from municipalities and townships, DATA is looking for other revenue sources (e.g. advertising).

“This sometimes comes down to a fundamental question of: What is the value of public transit in the community?” said Schooley. “That may be a bigger question that you need to discuss beyond the budget request.”

Although Delaware City had not set aside specific funds for DATA, Brush said the council has a $200,000 buffer as it tweaks the 2012 proposal.

While he has not formally made a decision about how DATA should be funded, Brush predicted that the city would give DATA some of the requested assistance.

“I’d be a little surprised if we give them the amount that they requested,” he added.

He said he and council would have to discuss the possible impact that DATA’s operations would have on Delaware City residents.