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Hi there!

I’ve figured it’s time for Northwest Washington State to have a seat at the table.  You may know me as “AvgeekJoe from Skagit County ” from the comment threads and as a regular contributor to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr feed as well.

You may also know I lean somewhat right in my beliefs.  You can rest assured I may be friends with Washington Policy Center staffers, but I’m not here to spew talking points or troll.  I do believe however that political biases are best served out in the open.

One of those biases is for a strong, sustainable transit system allowing people to live where they need to live.  We in Northwest Washington State currently enjoy a County Connector System between Snohomish, Skagit, Island and Whatcom Counties.  I say currently as that depends on start-up grants and on if Island Transit can survive the recent dire straights Island Transit HQ has put a legendary transit agency into.

The Whidbey Examiner has reported in part on the Island Transit fiscal crisis:

Martha Rose, director of Island Transit, said she fired Financial Manager Barbara Savary in May after she disclosed that the agency didn’t have the money to pay $135,000 in bills.

Rose said she was dumbfounded to discover that Savary hadn’t been running the monthly cash flow analysis for years. She said the simple, internal report is not only a vital part of the job, but would have alerted the agency to cash flow concerns years ago.

Island Transit is an independent agency overseen by a board of directors. It offers fare-free transit and is funded by a nine-tenths of 1 percent sales tax and grants. The operating budget for this year is $12.2 million.

Unbeknownst to her, Rose said, Savary was dipping into investments as expenses outpaced revenues for years on end. Rose said she found unpaid bills in Savary’s desk after she was gone.

YouTube video – clearly set to the soundtrack of the James Bond movie Skyfall – has been posted of the Island County Commissioners’ Monday meeting where further revelations came forward.  On that YouTube video are statements pledging new accountability, a look into the fiscal sustainability of Island Transit and finally in the last 60 seconds “financial statements” made to the board were clearly “incorrect”.

Now I’d rather write about the great transit network we have here, complete with dang “selfies” of me using transit to see the great aviation community we have in Northwest Washington State.  But I believe you should know what’s going down up here as it’s going to color debates & dialogue on transit in this state.  Already the Washington Policy Center has written up a note,  noting, “More tax money from the state is not the solution to fix the financial mess at Island Transit. Better budget management and financial practices could have reduced the pain felt by communities across Island County. … Island Transit officials should better manage public tax dollars to rebuild the public trust and restore reliable and efficient bus service.”

Ultimately I hope all of us in the transit community heed these thoughts from Whidbey Newsgroup publisher Keven R. Graves that, “citizens need to reclaim ownership of their taxpayer-funded agencies, attend meetings, ask hard questions and push for tougher open records laws that don’t allow agencies to drag their heels and play games.  Take back your voice and demand greater accountability of government employees before things start going wrong.”  I would add when there are opportunities for transit advocates to raise your voice… please use up that First Amendment to the US Constitution of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and petition the government for a redress of grievances – key freedoms our troops and First Responders fight for every day.

21 Replies to “North by Northwest Post 01: Intro & Island Transit Update”

  1. Island Transit really should look into redesigning their bus maps and their website to be less amateur-looking.

    Side note: YouTube isn’t an adjective. “YouTube video” would be the correct phrase to use.

    1. Thank you, I agree the Island Transit website isn’t the best. However I doubt now is the time to press the issue and ask for thousands to be spent on webpage development.

      Thanks also for the grammatical input. Will consider when writing in the future – plan to sortie again over the weekend if there’s any more Island Transit developments and if not on Tuesday.

  2. San Juan County is somewhat impacted by this as well, since the connection at Mount Vernon and March’s Point is also part of the connection to get to the ferry terminal.

    1. That connection will be preserved by Skagit Transit. Island Transit as of the end of June only makes a spur out of Oak Harbor for March’s Point Park & Ride.

      But good point!

      1. It’s true, Barb Savary had a good reputation working for WSDOT and they have rehired her because people in charge who have experienced working with both Barb and Martha are of the opinion that Martha is the irresponsible one and the accusations against Barb are false.

      2. K Magoo,

        Sorry for the late response. I’ve seen some data affirming this but not enough to confirm.

        I sure wonder how it is that bills from architects according to the audio of one recent Island Transit Board Meeting went unpaid – and why those architects didn’t call demanding prompt payment?

  3. Joe,

    Is it time for Island to think about a modest fare? I realize that the agency doesn’t “get” all the money a fare system raises. You’d have to buy fare boxes, someone has to process the money at the end of the day, and it takes longer at each stop because of the change fumblers.

    But even if you only get fifty cents on the dollar and only charge a dollar, that level of fare probably isn’t going to be much of a disincentive and it will help get the agency back into fiscal balance.

    Obviously, I don’t know the history of the “no fare” policy so there might be a significant cohort who would push back. But you need to think about it.

    1. I have no objection to a fare personally. It would only be fair and could be a condition to a rescue package.

      Except… implementing a fare will open the door to rolling back the tax increases used to pay the bills. There are some very vocal, virulent folks who will work towards doing that – which would do even more damage. So we have to factor this into our calculations of what rescue package will work.

  4. Joe, were you part of the ‘Farmhouse Gang’ that created the intra county bus line? Just wondering.

  5. Martha Rose should offer her immediate resignation to the board.

    Anyone who has been on the PTBD board for more than a few months should resign from the board and possibly their day job.

    For the board and the director to not be reviewing monthly financial statements is inexcusable.

    1. Chris;

      Being I’m reporting on this crisis for STB, I’ll keep my thoughts on what should be done for a later date.

      But I will say that two Island County Commissioners have alleged they were getting inaccurate financial data. One of whom even contradicted the Whidbey Newsgroup on Island County TV:

      Finally, I have had my experiences with the Whidbey Newsgroup. They don’t always get it right.

      1. My call for resignations is based on the assumption the board members weren’t receiving or reviewing monthly financial information.

        If the board was receiving incorrect information then the issue is different.

        Martha Rose should still offer her immediate resignation to the board as this happened on her watch. If what both the board and former CFO allege are true then Ms. Rose is indeed the center of the problem.

        The board should hire an outside auditor to review all monthly financial statements going forward. If for no other reason than such action insures the board and the director won’t get hoodwinked again.

      2. Chris;

        Sorry for the late reply. Uploading the YouTube for my next update as I write.

        I am of the view that the Island Transit Board will strategically let Martha Rose go at the point and time of most impact & leverage to get a transit rescue package.

        There will be increased financial accountability measures – the details of which will be ironed out at the next Island Transit Board Meeting at Friday, August 22, 2014, at 9:00 AM. Expect fireworks and STB recon forces there.

  6. There will be a small Island Transit update (less than 500 words I promise us) from me by 2300 Hours tonight. Sincerely welcome and appreciate the comments!

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