Bethel’s tribe, ONC announced Monday that they will no longer provide funding for the city’s transit system. The announcement came at a joint meeting of the tribe and the city council at ONC’s offices. Gloria Simeon, President of the ONC Council, says uncertainty of federal funding is a big reason they’re pulling the money.
“The sequestration and what’s happening on the national level leaves us in a quandary because we don’t know what the funding is going to be in the next few years,” Simeon said.
“We have a new administration coming so we need to kind of close in our funding until we know what’s happening and being basically two years paid in advance in our agreement with the city, we cannot advance any more money in in-kind contributions.”
The city has been managing the transit system with contributions from ONC and matching state and federal grants since 2008. Simeon says ONC has contributed about three quarters of a million dollars to date and the council voted unanimously at their regular meeting last week to stop funding it. She says ONC needs to devote more resources to their low-income housing project.
The city council in their Tuesday regular meeting showed strong, but cautious interest in stepping in to fund the system. They would have to commit nearly $100,000 from their 2016 budget, which won’t be done until June.
John Sargent who manages the city’s grants said Monday ONC cut comes as the city is poised to secure significant transit funding.
“We have four buses right now,” he said. “We just got a brand new bus for $63,000 on last year’s grant and we have a bus in the current budget for next year. That would be another $63,000 bus, which we could get delivered and we were hoping to apply for a third bus. So within two years we would have had three new buses.”
Shannon Sumner says her decision to move to Bethel from Seattle to work for the Kuskokwim Campus of UAF was partially due to the city’s transit system. She says she rides the bus to work every day and her budget will feel a pinch if it goes away.
“I buy a bus pass. It pretty much costs me $3 a day to get to and from work,” Sumner said. “If I take a cab it’s going to cost me $12 a day to get to and from work, and that is a big huge budget difference.”
Bethel will have to find another source of funding quickly as a grant requiring matching funds is due in December. If they don’t, Bethel’s bus service could end June 30th.