Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he opposes a plan to reject Connect Transit’s budget, calling it the “nuclear option that might blow up in our face.”
Bloomington City Council member Jeff Crabill and Normal Town Council member Karyn Smith want to reject Connect Transit's budget in hopes of stopping the controversial elimination of the Olive route and fare increases. If Connect Transit’s budget is rejected, the system would have to work with the City of Bloomington and Town of Normal on a new one.
Renner said it’s a bad idea. Speaking on GLT’s Sound Ideas, he said a possible Bloomington City Council vote June 24 would only leave five days to negotiate a new Connect Transit budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1.
“What that would mean is absolute, total pandemonium if the council were to reject the budget. Because of none of our attorneys can even agree on what that means. Does that mean Connect Transit shuts down? That means everybody loses July 1,” Renner said.
Renner added: “This is the kind of stuff you see done at the national level that’s disastrous. We don’t need that kind of policymaking in Bloomington.”
Connect Transit General Manager Isaac Thorne told GLT on Monday that a service shutdown would not be immediate should the budget be rejected.
If Connect Transit is without a budget, that would delay its Downstate Operating Assistance Program (DOAP) application to the state, Thorne said. Connect Transit will be forced to use reserve funding until the Illinois Department of Transportation can approve the delayed DOAP application and reimburse it for operating expenses, he said.
“With the lack of IDOT funding that reimburses Connect Transit (for) 65% of operating expenses, Connect Transit will suspend all capital improvements that require local funds such as the Better Bus Stop campaign,” Thorne said. “We will attempt to provide service for as long as possible using reserve funds. Once reserve funds are exhausted Connect will suspend service.”
Crabill said he wants the Bloomington City Council to consider increasing its annual contribution to Connect Transit—now at around $1.2 million for operations and capital expenses—to reverse the changes. Renner said it may be possible to avoid the rate increases, although he said he’s not eager to restore the Olive route.
“I personally don’t want to get into telling the (Connect Transit) board how to run transit. That’s something we appoint them to do,” Renner said.
Smith floated the idea of rejecting Connect Transit’s budget last week, also citing opposition to the Olive cut and fare changes. Other critics of the changes—organized as Citizens To Ensure Fair Transit, or CEFT—are lobbying for them to be reversed and for new Connect Transit board appointees.
“Connect Transit is doing a very good job. Can they listen better? Absolutely. Can the board be reconstructed to be more representative of its riders? Absolutely,” Renner said. “But those things can be accomplished without having to use a nuclear option that might blow up in our face.”
Editor's note: GLT Program Director Mike McCurdy is Connect Transit's board chair.
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