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.
A 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.