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Lack of payment from East Spencer, Spencer contributed to city manager’s transit proposal

By Liz Moomey
liz.moomey@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In proposing to discontinue public transit routes to Spencer and East Spencer as part of COVID-19-related budget cuts, Salisbury City Manager Lane Bailey says there is an equity issue.

Bailey proposed during Tuesday’s council meeting the Salisbury Transit routes that serve Spencer and East Spencer be discontinued starting July 1. He said in an interview one day later that there is an equity issue because the neighboring municipalities don’t pay for the service and the Salisbury doesn’t provide the service throughout its city limits, even though there is a need.

“Why are we going to two jurisdictions outside the city limits and we’re not getting any money from the county or both jurisdictions and we’re not providing full service to our citizens?” he asked. “To me, it’s an equity issue for our citizens.”

The cost to serve both Spencer and East Spencer is $105,000 yearly. In fiscal year 2018-2019, the revenues were about  $1.3 million and the expenditures were about $1.4 million. The fund had to rely on a transfer from the general fund to make up the difference. Salisbury Transit had nearly 159,000 systemwide trips in 2018; of those, 6,788 trips were from Spencer and 11,744 were from East Spencer.

Bailey said he is aware some of those riders may be coming into Salisbury for work or to spend money, but Salisbury citizens are doing the same and not getting the service at all.

Spencer Mayor Jonathan Williams said some of his town’s residents use Salisbury Transit because they have no other means of transportation. Salisbury also benefits from the citizens traveling to the city.

Many of those using public transportation are doing it to get into Salisbury to go to a store and spend their money, Williams said. “Salisbury is reaping the benefits in their sales tax from those purchases their making,” he said. “Many are using public transit to go to work.”

East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett said the possible elimination of the routes in the town would be detrimental to its citizens.

“It’s crucial to their day-to-day living,” Mallett said. “For something that has been around for 50 years or more and then all a sudden have it snatched out, not good.”

Mallett declined to comment further, saying she wants a chance to discuss it further with other local leaders.

Williams said he heard from Spencer Town Manager David Treme that the cut of service would be proposed in the Salisbury budget, but it came as a surprise Wednesday morning.

“We’ve been given a month’s notice before services will be cut off,” Williams said.

Williams said he has talked to Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander to find a way to extent the bus service to early 2021, which will give them time to find a permanent solution.

“I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure there is no suspension in bus service on July 1,” Williams said.

He said one possibility is from a CARES Act grant.

Salisbury Transit received a $959,679 federal grant earlier this month. The money can be used for operating, preventive maintenance and administrative expenses to maintain service during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

Transit Director Rodney Harrison said the money can be used for their services from Feb. 1 to now.

“It can be used for general daily operations, operating on a fixed route, ADA paratransit system on an every day basis,” he said.

Due to COVID-19, bus fares were eliminated, which is a source of revenue for the Transit System.

The council could decide not to eliminate the routes to Spencer and East Spencer in its budget, but the transit fund would have to rely on the general fund to make up the difference, Bailey said. He added he doesn’t think the fund could recoup the $105,000 through fares and the city has maximize all the grant opportunities.

“Rodney does a great job of maximizing all the revenue we can, and I realize this is a difficult issue,” Bailey said. “The bottom line is I want to provide the best service we can to the City of Salisbury. I hear from folks that don’t get the service. That is a significant part of why I made the recommendation.”

Williams said he understands why the proposal was made with budget constraints due to COVID-19. 

“I recognize all of our municipalities have budget concerns given the uncertainty of COVID-19, but I think now more than ever we need to make sure we are still providing some of those basic services to our community,” Williams said.

Williams said it is important the municipalities work collaboratively. “East Spencer and Salisbury, they’re our neighbors,” he said. “We want to work with them and we want to find a solution to this.”

The City Council will hold a budget workshop on June 1.

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