With respect to Initiative 976 on the Nov. 5 ballot, I would like to take a moment to urge voters to consider the negative ramifications on many life-line services in our community, including Valley Transit.
As a Walla Walla City Council member, I am one of the city’s representatives to Valley Transit, the agency that provides transportation services throughout Walla Walla, College Place and parts of Walla Walla County. Let me describe the impacts I-976 might have on Valley Transit — our regional transit system.
Lowering vehicle licensing fees to $30 could cost our regional transit system $575,000 a year out of the Valley Transit transportation budget alone.
The funds in this budget are allocated toward delivering fixed-route services on 11 buses each week day, Deviated route service and connector service on nights and weekend, Dial-a-Ride service (senior and person with a disability services), Job Access service and Vanpool services in the Walla Walla Valley. These programs provide more than 750,000 rides a year to local residents.
As a City Council member for 28 years, and a member of the Valley Transit Board of Directors for 28 years, I have seen first-hand how the funding generated from licensing fees maintains operating capacity for emergency services, road maintenance and enhancement projects, and public transportation operations.
This is managed through the funding of several different programs from state highways to administrative funds, but a significant portion of these funds go into the multimodal account. This account was created by RCW 47.66.010 in order to assure the viability of public transportation programs across the state by pooling funds and then allowing public transportation programs and projects to compete for those limited resources.
The multimodal account stands to take a significant reduction should I-976 pass, and the financial impact of cutting more than $2 billion out of that budget over the next six years will have an impact on every single public transportation provider in the state.
In some areas, it will completely remove public transportation as an option in the area. It is a sobering moment indeed to realize that if I-976 were to pass, Walla Walla Valley should count itself lucky to only lose just shy of 8% of its transportation budget (which could result in a reduction of service if a replacement funding source is not found).
You may have recently read (bit.ly/31g987a) the potential impacts on city of Walla Walla infrastructure written by Brenden Koch, the city’s communications manager, so my column will focus primarily on the impacts for public transportation in the Walla Walla Valley.
Unfortunately, passage of I-976 would hit our region in the area that needs funding the most. The funds that Valley Transit receives from the multimodal account are for special needs transportation and rural mobility. These funds drive the Dial-a-Ride program that transports those who are physically unable to use a fixed route bus and do not have the means to transport themselves.
The average public transit user is reliant on the service as their last or only option to get to work or necessary services, and any reduction in mobility through service reduction has an immediately measurable negative impact on their life.
In the coming year, Valley Transit is anticipated to receive $394,376 in special transportation needs funding and $177,000 in sales tax equalization funds. These funds would be on the chopping block to shore up Washington’s multimodal budget for the year. This funding gap could be anticipated to continue with a loss of funding to Walla Walla Valley’s Public Transit ranging between $350,000 and $400,000 in the years to follow based on the amount of funding that would be left after the passage of I-976.
In conclusion, I want voters to become aware of the consequences to local public transportation if I-976 is passed.
The Valley Transit Board of Directors comprised of representatives of the cities of Walla Walla and College Place, along with members of the Walla Walla County Board of County Commissioners, will act accordingly to provide the best service to our citizens as possible.
We only ask each voter to please understand the far-reaching financial impacts I-976 may have on our communities and the services rendered by our local public transit system when you fill out and submit your ballot.
Jerry Cummins is the chairman of the Valley Transit board and a member of the Walla Walla City Council. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org