After a withering State Auditor’s Office audit, reports Island Transit has dipped into the red and the former Executive Director forced out by the Oak Harbor Mayor deployed by his City Council to get Island Transit manageable again; one easily can perceive Island Transit is at a tipping point. One can also perceive Island Transit is making occasional correct turns as Island Transit recovers from burning through no less than $7.72 million in reserves since January 2008 and damaged public trust – trust so damaged its disgraced former Executive Director is under criminal investigation.
Two rounds of route eliminations became necessary. The first round was to eliminate the Camano Island to Everett part of the Tri-County Connectors, which meant now that Camano Island residents to get to Everett had to go north up to Mount Vernon then connect on crowded Skagit Transit 90X buses to get to Everett. Furthermore, Skagit Transit now had to connect to Island Transit at the March’s Point Park & Ride on Fidalgo Island instead of Mount Vernon with a new bus route the 40X in order to keep that link alive. The second round which resulted in layoffs of operators and maintainers resulted in the loss of Saturday service throughout Whidbey – a huge blow to Whidbey’s valued but small tourist economy, cutbacks in Paratransit and the loss of several fixed routes. Over 20 employees lost their jobs as well…
If you believe the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) is fair, then according to a SAO report publicly released 27 October, “The Board and management did not effectively monitor the financial activity of the Transit to ensure revenues were adequate to cover increased operational and capital expenditures.” Only one board member has publicly apologized and resigned while others attempt to spin, igniting the anger of the Oak Harbor Mayor who will now campaign for a new Island Transit Board.
One may recall there was a letter from 10th District state legislators pointing out suggested targets for the SAO. A spokeswoman for State Senator Bailey said, she was “very happy with the job the State Auditor’s Office has done and happy the formal process work the way it’s supposed to”. Appreciates STB “staying on top of it” too. The House Republicans through a spokeswoman communicated a wait-and-see approach to events…
However, in the SAO reports are plans submitted by Island Transit staff for audit compliance. One will hope for Island Transit’s future, plans to – among other things – monitor closely Island Transit’s cash balance and hold accountable the new Executive Director will be followed through.
It’s important the Island Transit Board either show a realization of the errors of its ways or steps aside as the biggest aftershock from the Island Transit fiscal mismanagement has not hit yet. Especially as Island Transit is deferring paying insurance premiums to the Washington State Transit Investment Pool (WSTIP) in an act that could always be called back, is over 25% grant-dependent and Island Politics exposed recently some of the overspending on their necessary new headquarters (HERE, HERE, HERE & HERE). One grant cannot be applied for until November, and with the recent controversies may not win approval. Island Transit currently has only one Board member – the City of Oak Harbor Mayor – putting forward ideas to raise revenue outside of grants.
At least grassroots transit advocates can take action to help Island Transit rebound – especially since the Whidbey News-Times in a 1 November editorial is supportive of the Oak Harbor Mayor’s efforts:
- Sign the petition demanding a forensic audit into Island Transit to get answers as to what happened to Island Transit and what is doable to repair Island Transit’s fiscal position: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/forensic-audit-into-island-transit
- If you live in Island County, join with me in demanding Island Transit Boardmembers Helen Price-Johnson, Bob Clay and Jim Sundberg publicly apologize and resign as those three boardmembers were on during at least most of the loss of Island Transit’s reserves – among other issues.
Ultimately though, for Island Transit to recover, Island Transit must regain the trust of the public and do so quickly. Especially as the Tri-County Connector grant linking Skagit County to Whidbey Island is up for renewal in January – vital to keeping Island County connected to the rest of Washington State and to Island Transit’s survival… and the State Legislature normally does not grant money to transit agencies that cannot prove they operate in a responsible manner.