Silver Key takes case to RTA
‘Out of whack’ funding for specialized transportation challenged

       Silver Key Senior Services, headquartered on the Westside, provides 90,000 bus trips a year for seniors throughout the metro area. To help cover those costs, the proposed 2006 Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) budget would provide Silver Key with $70,000 from its transit funds.
       Meanwhile, the Fountain Valley Senior Citizen Center, headquartered in the Fountain area, provides 18,000 trips a year, and the proposed '06 RTA budget amount for that specialized transit service is $200,000.
       “That's out of whack,” said John Morse, executive director of Silver Key, in a recent interview. “Why should Fountain Valley get more than twice as much when we do five times the work?”
       He's taken his case to the RTA board, which consists of elected representatives from member governments (Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, El Paso County and Green Mountain Falls). The item is on the agenda of the board meeting Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 1:30 p.m. in the county office building's third-floor hearing room at 27 E. Vermijo Street.
       Sherre Ritenour, the city's Transit Services Division manager, said the decision is “up to the RTA board.” The problem is that she doesn't know where to find additional funds to meet the Silver Key request. “Other programs would have to be cut,” she said.
       Before this year, El Paso County paid Fountain Valley's $200,000 stipend - an amount that covers nearly all that non-profit agency's transportation costs. RTA is paying that now because its creation resulted in it taking over the county's former transit expense, Ritenour said. She added that there has been no comparative cost or needs analysis regarding Fountain Valley and Silver Key services .
       For Silver Key, even $400,000 would only represent 40 percent of its transportation program's cost, Morse said. The rest of the $1 million expense is covered by a city stipend (14 percent), state and federal funds (13 percent), voluntary rider contributions (10 percent) and private donations (the remaining balance). The cost also includes the savings that result from half of the drivers being volunteers, Morse said.
       For its budget as a whole, Silver Key expects to show a $275,000 operating deficit going into 2006, and it may even get worse. “I'm going to have to go out and find donors,” Morse said.
       He believes the agency's transportation service provides a worthy contribution to the community. Unlike regular transit routes, which are curb to curb, Silver Key's is door to door - meaning that agency personnel will go into people's homes to help them get into the vehicles, if need be, and will reverse those steps when taking them back. The kinds of trips Silver Key offers are either on request (for example, to a doctor's office) or scheduled (such as to shopping areas), Morse said.
       Ritenour said she respects Silver Key's mission - the elderly are an “under-served population,” she remarked - but made the point that the agency's transportation offering really should be considered a “social services program” for seniors who choose not to use Mountain Metro.
       For those who are disabled (old or young), there are the RTA-funded Amblicab, a door-to-door service; and the Mountain Metro's Metro Mobility, curb to curb.
       In any case, on regular routes, elderly citizens are always looked out for, Ritenour emphasized. “Mountain Metro never leaves anyone stranded,” she said. “We make certain people are safe.”
       Morse sees that situation a little differently. He said that many of Silver Key's riders, though perhaps not disabled, are feeble enough that a bus stop a block away “might as well be 10 million miles.”
       There is no requirement that the RTA fund specialized transit programs. Ritenour noted that the RTA ballot issue (approved by voters in November 2004) only required that 10 percent of the sales tax's earnings should go for transit.
       The Citizens' Advisory Committee (CAC) to the RTA recently discussed the issue, deciding to ask for presentations from both Fountain Valley and Silver Key. However, the CAC is not scheduled to meet again until Dec. 28. Ritenour said she did not know how this would impact the RTA board members' consideration of the issue. Another ingredient in the mix is that the RTA's 2006 budget is scheduled for approval Dec. 14 - so a postponement of the Silver Key matter apparently would require either a delay in budget approval or a future budget amendment, she said.

Westside Pioneer article