on May 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

County detours Surrett’s CAT plan

“You get $1 million in rolling stock, $500,000 in operating revenues and 23 new jobs. That’s what you get for $30,000.”

— Al Babinicz, CAT Executive Director

WALHALLA — County Administrator Dale Surrett’s vision of Clemson Area Transit (CAT) busses traveling to Westminster and Walhalla before July 2009 hit a detour Wednesday.

Members of the Budget and Finance Committee voted to renew CAT funding at this year’s $35,000 level, but derailed Surrett’s plan for expanded service, carving $65,000 out of his proposed budget. Surrett had wanted to meet a $40,000 request from the city, add $40,000 more for service to Westminster and Walhalla and $20,000 more to have CAT busses at local celebrations such as the Applefest and Oktoberfest.

The decision to only renew funding came after a lively give-and-take between budget committee members, Seneca City Manager Greg Dietterick and CAT Executive Director Al Babinicz.

Council Chairman George Blanchard renewed his claim that CAT service in Oconee County is for a “Seneca bus system” and challenged Babinicz’s claim that the service enhances economic development.

Blanchard said the busses serve commercial interests and don’t go near Highway 11 manufacturing plants.

“Transit service should be in the magic triangle of Seneca, Westminster and Walhalla,” Blanchard said. “I’m not advocating expanding bus service or transportation lines into rural areas. We need to drive it into municipalities and the municipalities should pay.”

Blanchard said his constituents in northern Oconee feel they are “being asked to put a nickel in the fare box, but they don’t have any service.”

“It doesn’t sit well with people I represent,” he said.

Councilman Marion Lyles said it was his understanding that the county’s $35,000 appropriation last year was going to be used to study the feasibility of extending service to Walhalla and Westminster and questioned Dietterick about why that study won’t be complete until later this year.

Dietterick said the money was used as matching grant funds for operations, which cost $500,000 for the Seneca area service each year. He said 49 percent of the ridership in Seneca comes from outside the city, and said the study process is long and arduous.

“I can’t control the time frames,” the Seneca manager said.

Babinicz acknowledged that there have been misunderstandings about how funds were being used but defended the growing system, noting that 39,000 riders between January and March of this year was an 83 percent increase from last year. He also contended that the county is getting its money worth.

“You get $1 million in rolling stock,” he said, referring to busses, “$500,000 in operating revenues and 23 new jobs. That’s what you get for $30,000.”

Babinicz wouldn’t speculate on what it would cost to extend service beyond the Seneca area, deferring to the results of the pending study. He did say he foresees a day when there are more CAT busses, CAT boats and even short-spur, light rail lines as part of the county’s mass transit system.