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Two sides offer different projection of township costs for transit service

by Chris Daponte

WELLINGTON NORTH - Roger Cook wants taxpayers here to know the annual cost to provide the Saugeen Mobility and Regional Transit  (SMART) service will be far less than $235,000 - the figure recently provided by councillor Andy Lennox.

Last week Lennox, also chairman of Wellington North’s finance committee, told council the proposed transit system would cost the township $20,000 and $44,000 respectively in its first two years, before ballooning to $235,000 annually by 2016.

Lennox said that figure is based on costs for the system in Hanover.

But Cook, manager of the SMART service, which also operates in West Grey, Arran-Elderslie, Brockton and Kincardine, took exception to the projections provided by Lennox.

“To compare Wellington North’s potential cost with Hanover’s is at best inaccurate and unfair,” Cook said.

He explained Hanover’s ridership is “unusually high” because the service there is offered to more people - including all seniors - and not just those who are mentally or physically challenged.

The other four municipal partners in the SMART service have usage rates that are far lower, he added, and Wellington North’s costs should be no higher than Brockton’s, which is $65,000 annually.

“This level would take at least three years to reach, giving Wellington North ratepayers a gradual ramp up of costs,”  Cook said, adding the annual cost should “level out” around the $65,000 mark after three years.

Lennox said it is “interesting” that Cook is coming forward with that figure now, considering council asked some time ago for a five-year projection of costs, but Cook provided only two years worth of estimates.

As a result, Lennox said he had to come up with his own projection. He admitted using the Hanover figure and pro-rating it for Wellington North’s population, but he said the actual size of the expenditure may not be the issue.

“We can argue about the numbers all day, but ... my message to council was about affordability,” Lennox said.

It is always nice to add a new service, he added, but not if it places a large burden on taxpayers, especially when the township’s finances are such that council may have to consider cutting some services from the budget.

“Adding a new service seems impractical, no matter what the numbers are,” Lennox said.

The SMART service, like any other “on-demand, specialized transit service,” is expensive, Cook acknowledged, but it is money well spent.

Municipal payments cover only operating costs, he explained, including driver wages, administration, insurance, fuel, maintenance, advertising and more. All capital costs are funded through a gas tax reserve fund.

He told the Advertiser the service would serve about 100 residents initially and all the feedback he has heard from locals has been positive.

Council is expected to make a decision on the SMART service at its next meeting, on Oct. 17 at 7pm.

 

October 14, 2011

 
 

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