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Grant could save Lash Drive van service

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — City officials are crossing their fingers in hopes that a grant will pay half the cost of operating the Lash Drive Connector.
The future looked grim for the beleaguered public van service, which connects a low-income neighborhood near the Salisbury Mall to shopping, a grocery store and other bus routes.
Ridership on the connector has fallen to about 13 people per day, and costs are expected to increase in the next fiscal year.
But Salisbury Transit and the city’s Public Services Department suggested applying for a Targeted Transit Assistance Program Grant.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Rodney Harrison, director for the Salisbury Transit System.
If approved, the federal grant will pay half the $58,200 cost to run the connector, leaving the city to pay $29,100.
That’s about $6,000 more than the city paid this fiscal year for 10 months of connector service.
About a dozen people showed support at Tuesday’s council meeting for the connector, including several disabled people who said the service is often their only means of transportation.
The bus stop nearest Lash Drive is a mile away. Walking that far, especially during bad weather, is a hardship, said Archie Reid, a Laurel Pointe resident on Lash Drive.
Disabled people who live on Lash Drive must maneuver their motorized scooters in the street to get to the bus stop on days when the connector isn’t running, a woman said. There are no sidewalks, she said.
With grant funding, the Lash Drive Connector would run three days a week instead of two, meeting a request of users who say additional people would ride the connector if it ran more often and was better understood.
The expanded route would add more stops, including Rowan Regional Medical Park on Julian Road, RoMedical on Mitchell Avenue and Kohl’s shopping center. The service also would connect with a downtown transfer site, giving riders more options.
If funded and approved by Council, Salisbury Transit would operate the new Lash Drive Connector.
The nine-passenger van connects residents from Crosswinds Apartments, Lakewood, Laurel Pointe, Hidden Cove and Fleming Heights to the nearby Food Lion and Salisbury Mall.
If the city had provided public transportation years ago to the Salisbury Community Park on Hurley School Road as promised, Lash Drive would have regular bus service, said William Peoples, a neighborhood advocate.
Council members will decide whether to fund the Lash Drive Connector during budget deliberations.
In other business
Also at Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting:
• The N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer requested $10,000 for the next fiscal year. The museum increased its annual request because the General Assembly likely will pull $1 million in state funding.
“If we ever needed your support — and we did — we really need it now,” said Roy Johnson, president for the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation.
The museum delivers an $8.64 million economic impact in Rowan County, has no long-term debt and attracts 100,000 people a year, he said.
The museum, which will start charging admission if it loses state funding, would use the city’s appropriation to pay for two advertising billboards on I-85 — one each at exit 52 and exit 72.
• Police Chief Rory Collins said the new street crimes unit in one month confiscated 27 grams of cocaine, 76 grams of marijuana, 18 dosages of prescription medication and five guns from Salisbury streets.
The unit made 63 arrests, Collins said.
He reviewed for Council the recent police reorganization, which focuses on three components for success — suppression, intervention and prevention.
Collins said he soon will start a program where police officers serve as mentors.
• The city in April won first place among medium-sized businesses for the 2011 Healthiest Employers of Greater Charlotte, sponsored by the Charlotte Business Journal.
The city has created a climate that makes wellness a priority, said Karen Ingram, benefits administrator. Employees can see a nurse practitioner for free at an on-site clinic, and the city provides a variety of wellness initiatives.
• Council approved the demolition of the house at 307 S. Institute St., owned by Willard Williams of Charlotte.
• The Salisbury High School Lady Hornets basketball team was recognized for winning the N.C. 2A Basketball State Championship.
 • The city will close the  100 block of North Main Street from 12 a.m. Aug. 27 until 6 a.m. Aug. 28 for a Brick Street Live outdoor concert event.
• Council approved a lease contract with AT&T to lease about 500 square feet of property at 405 N. Jackson St., at the base of a water tower.
• RowanWorks Economic Development requested $62,548 for next year, a 10 percent decrease.
Executive Director Robert Van Geons listed several RowanWorks initiatives that have helped the city, including expansions at Henkel and Norandal, recruiting TurnKey Technologies, expanding marketing for the Rowan County Airport and establishing the building reuse and restoration program.
• Rowan Museum requested $10,000. Dick Huffman, chairman for the museum’s Board of Directors, said the museum continues to offer free admission while many museums charge an average of $7 per person.
The museum serves thousands of children during the school year and at summer camps and is in financial distress, Huffman said.
• David Post, owner of Salisbury Pharmacy, asked the city to allow electronic signs.
Many businesses already have an exemption for electronic signs, including the VA Medical Center, colleges and gas stations, he said, and the city’s sign ordinance has other anomalies.
Electronic signs are easier to change for business owners, who type in a new message rather than manually changing the letters on a sign, Post said.
• Mary Arey, 415 W. Marsh St., asked Council to preserve the city-owned lot at 615 S. Ellis St. as a passive park rather than selling it as surplus real estate.
Eventually, the neighborhood will raise money to pay for playground equipment, Arey said. For now, children who have no other place to play use the lot for exercise and fun, she said.
• City Manager David Treme said staff have been working hard to prepare the 2011-12 budget for the May 3 council meeting. Because the city faces a $2.7 million shortfall, the budget preparation has taken “an incredible amount of time,” Treme said.
• Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell asked Council to discuss next month receiving monthly financial reports from staff. Many town aldermen and the Rowan County commissioners receive monthly these reports, but City Council does not, she said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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