My photoshop of my photo
Part I: Island Transit Staff Withdrawal of Grant Application Without Board Input
Island Transit, once again engages in a modus operandi of withdrawing Island Transit services without Island Transit Board input or public scrutiny. Just as Island Transit supposedly did not inform its board of its declining finances (e.g. SCNews.com report, STB Report on the State Auditor’s Office lashing of Island Transit) or of its second rounds of cuts where Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson said “she wanted to reopen the agency’s service cut decisions because the board was not allowed to provide direction” to the South Whidbey Record; an Island Transit bureaucrat – most likely Executive Assistant to the Director – on 18 November contacted the Skagit-Island Special Needs Transportation Committee to withdraw its, “Specific Operating Assistance to Preserve Existing Service project” application which according to a Skagit Council of Governments (SCOG) document, “would continue operations of the 411 County Connector express service from Whidbey and Camano islands” and “is the highest priority of their agency.” Basically the process to apply for state support for Island County’s participation in the Tri-County Connectors of Whatcom-Skagit-Island-Snohomish has stalled even before reaching the state legislature due to Island Transit staff unilaterally withdrawing the funding request without Island Transit Board input.
Island Transit through this process did apply and get forwarded the request for 10 new vehicles, as per Skagit-Island Human Services Transportation Project Descriptions, 2015-2017, “This project would replace five 30’ buses and five vans in Island Transit’s fleet. 70% of Island Transit’s vehicles are at the end of their life cycle according to the application.”
Island Transit did also apply and get forwarded the request for human services grants – basically grants to help disabled persons – for according to the same source, “technology replacements for security cameras and tablet computers. Project would also repaint Oak Harbor transit station, which has never been repainted, add bus shelters and provide needed maintenance tools and engine rebuilds.”
However, in a 2014-11-26 Island County Sub Region RTPO Hearing of which the audio is now online, Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson voiced concern about Island Transit’s lack of priorities. For Commissioner Johnson – a Chamber of Commerce Republican – it was about how Island Transit was taking a “human service transportation projects funding list and we’re going to paint buildings with that money? That’s odd to me. … How is paint helping anybody with a disability?” Commish Johnson went on to bemoan the lack of funds for disabled persons and besmirched Island Transit to be “not creative” with these funds.
Finally, in a through, thoughtful smackdown of the grants process, Commissioner Johnson said she’s, “sad, slash disappointed there’s money there for a community of people we try so hard to help and we’re using it to buy paint and the only thing that came forward was paint. … Just shameful, I guess, the focus I hear is the impact of the Paratransit and we can’t get enough of these routes and shoot, this was designated just for this purpose.”
Island County Commissioner Helen Price-Johnson – no relation to Jill Johnson – noted how Whidbey Island “had a high percentage of veterans that depend on the services in Mount Vernon for medical care” and “there’s no project to help that” with her hand hitting the table. As Commissioner and an Island Transit Boardmember, she wants “other opportunities in the near horizon” while looking for a strategic fix. NAS Whidbey Island Community Liaison Jennifer Meyer immediately suggested other transit providers work for the “combination of needs” in a “broad sense” for our vets, before the discussion moved on to other grant applications.
Commissioner Price-Johnson said sincerely she was, “sad about the Tri-County Connector, very sad, hopeful we might find some creative way to continue that service outside of this grant cycle because its vital.” In the past, Commissioner Price-Johnson has fought for the route but is denied the opportunity so far this time. More after the jump for Part II: The forewarnings of this development…
Part II: The Forewarnings
Problem is, Island Transit’s leaders have known for some time the finances of the agency have been under duress. For instance, Island Transit’s former Financial Director Sandra Kuykendall went on record back in January 2010 as saying with my emphasis:
As finance manager, Sandra has helped Island Transit through some tough financial times in recent years, which were alleviated when voters approved a sales tax increase last year. That kicked in the first of the year, and the transit system will see the first revenue from it in a couple of months. Dependent on the sales tax, Island Transit has seen receipts fall by 9 percent in 2008 and 8 percent in 2009, due to the recession. “This will fill in for that,” Sandy said of the new revenue. “It’s scary.”
So Island Transit’s now taxed to the max of its sales tax capacity. Island Transit still went ahead and sought an extravagant new headquarters instead of one more right-sized and less controversial & draining of Island Transit reserves. For several years, Island Transit insiders have told the author the Tri-County Connectors of both Oak Harbor-Mount Vernon & Camano Island-Everett have survived solely on state support with Island Transit’s finances under stress.
Again, the Island Transit bureaucrat placed the withdrawal on 18 November. Two days later, State Senator Curtis King, Chairman of the State Senate Transportation Committee (Republican/GOP) said regarding the Tri-County Connector services’ future with my emphasis and brackets for clarity starting at 15:29 of this Vimeo:
“That there was a [an] indication that this body no longer approved or had not provided funding for a connector service that had been funded and that all of us as legislators and particularly those from that district were accused of not having, you know, not making anybody aware of that and I want the public to know that, that decision was made by this body [Washington State Legislature], in, I think in 2013, and that, that Island Transit was informed of that decision, that we would no longer be funding that tran, that connector, they were well aware of that and I want the public to know that. That they would have to apply for funds just like every other agency would have to apply which had not been the case before that.”
Rep. Dave Hayes of the 10th Legislative District (Republican/GOP) which represents Island County back on 27 June 2014 forewarned, “Island Transit must recognize that temporary grants and legislative bailouts are not sustainable sources of funding, and it needs to make the same commitment as Skagit Transit to cover the costs “in house” as promised” (emphasis added) plus noted last summer Island Transit had a, “top to bottom failure in accountability.” It is clairvoyant Island Transit getting state support is becoming of questionable value, especially as there’s the aforementioned comments by State Senator King and as Representative Hayes made clear last month, “Until Island Transit starts charging fares and operating in a more responsible manner, it will be a huge challenge to get additional state dollars.”
Now that the grant application by Island Transit funds has been withdrawn without Island Transit Board knowledge, debate or consent; the Tri-County Connector link from Whidbey Island via the Deception Pass Bridge & Mount Vernon’s Skagit Station to Camano Island plus Skagit, Whatcom and Snohomish Counties is now in grave danger. Island Transit must either reenter the grant process, request Skagit Transit provide the services, privatize the route, find a means of additional revenue to make the match such as advertising, or cease services and watch public support dissolve while threats of putting Island Transit’s taxation authority to a vote could become action in 2015 placing Island Transit in a political predicament with few allies.
Programming Note: I am currently drafting an editorial that, I can promise you, I am capping at 500 words. This one went long so all the context was “out there”. We at STB Page Two got the scoop thanks to a dear Republican supporter of our efforts who happened to be in the room when the news broke to him. As such wanted to give my readers a through report. Through.