Editorial: A risky plan for borrowing

Island Transit Executive Director Martha Rose has never been one to run from a fight in her long career but she’s got a tough battle ahead as she tries to convince the board that it should borrow more than $24 million for a badly-needed upgrade to the transit system’s Coupeville base.

With only two hoists in the garage, mechanics can’t keep up with needed repairs for a fleet of roughly 200 commuter vans, paratransit vehicles and buses. And, famously, employees have had to share a single toilet since Island Transit was created by voters in the 1980s.

Rose’s decision to recommended borrowing the money for new facilities comes after years of trying to get outside funding for the project. Island Transit has expertly landed federal and state grants for numerous equipment purchases and route improvements over the years, but the big grant for the central bus base has eluded them. State Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, long a powerful champion of Island Transit, recently said that there’s no way any more money will be available in the next biennium for the island’s fare-free bus system.

Voters saved Island Transit from major cutbacks two years ago when they approved raising the transit sales tax to the legal limit of nine-tenths of one percent. The campaign for the vote never mentioned using proceeds for a major facilities upgrade. It was sold as essential to maintaining existing transit services.

When the transit board, made up of elected officials around the island, meets Friday, it should listen to Rose with an open mind, but also worry about how the public would react to such a plan. Where would the money come from to pay off such a large loan? You can’t plan a budget by simply hoping for the best.

Still, Island Transit needs help. Perhaps a much smaller loan could improve restroom facilities. Perhaps the school districts could share their bus maintenance facilities. Regardless, this is going to take some original thinking to solve, and it’s a decision that should not be made in haste.

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