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Weekend bus service will stall

"Island Transit patrons are beginning to feel the pain of Initiative 695 with the elimination of Saturday bus service starting Dec. 11.The buses have run on Saturday since Island Transit’s first year of operation in 1987, but the board of directors put an end to it at their meeting last Friday.Also axed was Island Transit’s service to Mount Vernon, which began just this year. It, too, will cease to exist on Saturday, Dec. 11.I-695, popularly called the $30 license tab initiative, was approved by voters Nov. 2. It eliminated the hefty motor vehicle excise tax and replaced it with a flat $30 license fee. While car owners save hundreds of dollars, the state lost about $750 million in annual revenues. Part of that money goes to Island Transit, where it accounts for about 60 percent of the transit agency’s revenue.“It absolutely breaks my heart to cut any service,” Island Transit Director Martha Rose said Tuesday. “It’s so depressing.” But she agreed that the board had little choice. Indeed, barring a tax increase or state bailout, more transit cuts seem inevitable.Ending Saturday bus service is expected to save $204,000 per year, Rose said. Typically, 900 to 1,100 people use the bus in Saturday. Axing the Mount Vernon route will save an additional $82,900 based on this year’s budget. Next year, when plans were to increase Mount Vernon service to an hourly basis, its elimination will save $230,000.But those cuts will fall far short of the break-even point as Island Transit’s budget hits the skids for the next two years. In 2000, the agency will still receive state sales tax equalization collected in 1999. Those funds come from the MVET. But they will disappear in 2001.So here’s the budget picture:2000 if I-695 had not passed: $4.6 million2000 with I-695: $3.02 million2001 when I-695 fully kicks in: $1.4 millionFrom a personnel standpoint, Rose said ending Saturday bus service was not difficult. Because of the threat of I-695, Island Transit has been losing employees in recent months. “We’re out of people,” she said. “Eleven (bus) operators and two dispatchers have gone in the last six months.” She was reluctant to hire replacements who would probably lose their jobs if I-695 passed — which it did.At some point the Island Transit board will have to consider further cuts. The board is chaired by Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell. Other members are County Commissioner Bill Thorn; Langley City Councilman Neil Colburn; Coupeville City Councilman Phil Williamson; and Oak Harbor City Councilwoman Sheila Creider.But first, public input will be sought beginning with a meeting this Thursday. Rose already knows some of what she’ll hear. “No one wants their service cut,” she said. “But people just don’t understand.”If people want to retain services it’s possible to raise the local sales tax. Rose said that option was discussed extensively at Friday’s board meeting but no consensus was reached. Presently, Island County’s sales tax includes 0.3 percent for transit. That could be doubled to 0.6 percent, but it would take voter approval."

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