Opinions on possible dissolution of transportation department heard

Although an official decision has not yet been made, Mayor Michael Villa said on Tuesday that he has been in discussions about the possibility of ending the city’s public transportation system, after a recent audit revealed the department has accumulated a negative $761,019 fund balance.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, City Clerk Laura Barquero read a letter from Nancy Rad, community schools coordinator for the Greater Amsterdam School District, addressed to the mayor and council members.

In the letter, Rad wrote that the city system allowed 214 elementary children to attend after school enrichment programs last spring. She also said the system has been “vital” to families who lacked the means to attend school events, conferences, or to pick up a sick child. She added that students at the high school also currently utilize the system in order to get home from after school sports and band programs.

She also said that the district has offered bus tickets to newly hired staff to get to jobs at the middle school and high school.

“I am concerned that with the elimination of city buses, attendance in our schools, participation in extracurricular activities, as well as family involvement, will be impacted,” she wrote.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Corey Bixby, president and business agent of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1321 spoke. Bixby said the union represents the workers at the city’s transportation department.

While acknowledging the city’s economic difficulties, Bixby said, “Starting a public transportation system over is going to be much more expensive to the city than continuing an operation that you already have going.”

Bixby cited a statistic from the American Public Transportation Association that every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns.

He said that although there are other transportation options available, they aren’t as affordable as the public system.

“Just because there are taxis available, a lot of our local residents…in the Amsterdam area can’t afford to take a taxi back and forth to work,” he said.

According to audit reports from the EFPR Group, the transportation department has seen three straight years of declining departmental revenue. According to the audit reports, the department generated $135,925 in fiscal year 2014, $118,413 in fiscal year 2015, and $85,987 in fiscal year 2016. The department also receives state and federal funding, but has still required six-figure transfers from the city’s general fund for the past several years in order to cover expenses.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.