Both sides expressed frustration Wednesday during a discussion about the future funding of a para-transit service in Johnson County cities that provides rides to the elderly and people with disabilities.
The Johnson County Board of Supervisors said during a two-hour public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2014 budget that the county can no longer afford to pay for what supervisors see as subsidies on behalf of Iowa City and Coralville for the SEATS program. They said the cities need to look within their budgets to come up with that money, as the county deals with a difficult budget year.
City leaders from those communities disagree with the characterization that the county is “subsidizing” those city transit services, since it’s money the county collects via a levy from taxpayers living in those cities. The mayors of Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty said they want to work cooperatively with the county to find a solution that results in a fair partnership of government entities to provide SEATS.
Both sides said they are open to negotiation, but any compromise likely will be too late to change the county’s planned funding level for the cities SEATS program in FY 2014, which will be a reduction from nearly $600,000 to $130,000.
Funds from the county levy should go toward county services, Supervisors Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said. She noted nearly 31 percent of the county budget goes toward social services and mental and physical health, programs the supervisors do not want to cut in order to maintain the subsidy to SEATS.
“I set out on this budget trying to protect that number,” she said. “The county just doesn’t have the flexibility in our budget.”
The city leaders said no matter the outcome of negotiations, they are committed to maintaining SEATS.
“Para-transit services will continue for our residents regardless of the status of negotiations, if any, between local governments,” Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said. He added city officials are “troubled” that the county now refers to its role in SEATS as that of a contracting entity “and not as the partner it has historically been.”
SEATS, which has been around for 35 years, provides door-t0-door transportation for the elderly, people with disabilities and people who otherwise cannot use the regular bus services in Iowa City, Coralville, University Heights and North Liberty. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires all cities with fixed-route transit systems to provide some form of transportation for people who can’t used fixed busing services. The five-year contracts that Iowa City and Coralville had with the county to provide SEATS expire June 30.