County expected to chip in on paying for NRoute|[08/28/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 28, 2007

NRoute’s administrators probably won’t get as much as they wanted, but it looks like Warren County taxpayers will bear some of the transit system’s $695,000 in costs in 2008.

&#8220I don’t see them getting $50,000,” District 5 Supervisor Richard George said Friday, referring to a request for funds made Thursday by NRoute Director Evelyn Bumpers.

The one-year-old bus system, which operates mostly within city limits, depends mostly on federal grants, as well as contributions from local businesses and municipalities. Fares were projected to cover 10 percent of operational costs, but have not.

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Passenger numbers hit a peak in July, extending a steady increase in use since the system debuted in June 2006.

A $35,000 contribution from Warren County helped get the system on its feet in 2006, but county officers said no money was apportioned to NRoute this year because none was sought.

As the county rounds out its 2008 budget, supervisors have until Sept. 4 to decide how many county dollars – if any – will support the transit system.

Bumpers brought her $50,000 request to the Warren County Board of Supervisors during its weekly informal meeting Thursday.

&#8220This system is helping people,” she said. &#8220We need your help.”

The question is whether Warren County taxpayers should pay for a system that operates almost exclusively within the corporate limits of the city of Vicksburg.

The board was divided, but undecided, as to how much to give NRoute through a local-private agreement.

Supervisors Charles Selmon and William Banks, representing districts 3 and 2, advocated pledging the full amount of Bumpers’ request.

District 4 Supervisor Carl Flanders said NRoute was a worthwhile program, but suggested capping county support at $35,000. District 1 Supervisor David McDonald concurred.

Only District 5 Supervisor Richard George was noncommittal.

&#8220We signed onto this at the beginning, and we want to give it room to grow,” he told Bumpers, but requested more information on which to base a decision.

George said Friday that his main concern was that not all county residents have access to the system.

&#8220The service area is about 40 square miles in the municipality, and you’ve got 500 square miles in the county,” he said. &#8220You can see there’s quite a lot of people that don’t get served.”

Use of NRoute by elderly and disabled residents earned the bus system merit, he added, saying the system will probably get some money from the county.

So far, more than 20,000 trips have been taken on NRoute buses. About half of bus riders are elderly or disabled.

Of 2,731 trips logged in July, 844 were taken by elderly passengers and 420 by disabled passengers, according to information provided by NRoute to Warren County. Fares, normally $1.50, are halved for the elderly and disabled..

In addition to federal funding through the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the system took in donations of $230,000 this year.

The system’s operating expenses are estimated to be $435,500 in 2007-08.

Beginning in October, NRoute will cease to be a department of the City of Vicksburg and will be run by a stand-alone commission of five members.

Bumpers told supervisors that because the system is no longer affiliated with the city, it can begin running a charter service to earn more money.

The NRoute Transit Commission will oversee operations, but Bumpers will likely remain as director.

&#8220It won’t mean any major changes,” said John Wayne Jabour, one of the appointed commissioners. &#8220It’ll just be run for what it’s meant to do, and that’s get folks to work that don’t have money.”

Commissioners will serve staggered terms. The group consists of: