Richland County Council Meeting September 12, 2006 + 6 pm
An overflow crowd greeted the Richland County Council on its return to action after a month's vacation. The primary interest was the Regional Transit Authority issue. With the public hearing scheduled for this meeting there was plenty of citizen involvement. In addition to the large number of interested citizens, three TV stations were represented. Even Doris Corley was there.
Carter, Goble, Lee gave the council their findings in the requested audit of RTA. The local bus service provides about 2.6 million trips annually, with half of those being people going to and from work. For every dollar spent on the RTA, 3 to 6 dollars are returned to the community. Over the last three years, the transit authority has averaged 10 million dollars annually in costs. Fares collected return about 19% of those costs. By 2009, the system will be running at an annual deficit of 4 million. Fares now being charged are consistent with other cites in Columbia's peer group. This includes Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tn., and Little Rock, Ak. The auditing group couldn't link raising fares with any trend, since every fare increase recently has also included a change in routes or service.
There were several items on the agenda requiring a public hearing. Only one had any takers. By my count nearly 50 people spoke about the RTA proposal. 75% of them were in favor of the bus proposal. The United Way, League of Women Voters, Midlands Business Alliance, Save Our Buses Taskforce, Palmetto Health System, The RTA Board, Midlands Friends of Public Transportation, and the Sierra Club were all represented.
One blind lady said $20 wasn't too much for people to pay and had her check filled out. She wanted to leave it on the dais. Others said there was too much taxation now, and the council needed to find another source of funding. One frequent rider had a plan to provide advertising space in the interior and exterior of the bus to help pay for the service. Someone else suggested better overall advertising for the RTA to increase ridership.
At least two speakers expressed embarrassment at the idea of South Carolina's capital city being without public transportation. One gentleman told the council he and his wife had no children but were proud to help provide school funding. He felt people who don't ride the bus should have the same feeling toward public transportation.
Everyone who wished to was allowed to speak. In the end, the council chose to defer the proposal until next week's meeting to allow some last minute deal making to be done.
Back To Business
An amendment to limit Hospitality Tax increases to 3% annually also passed third reading. Deeds were authorized for Wesley United Methodist Church and Richland Northeast Industrial Park. The latter allows Forum Development to assign its interest in the property. No other third reading items were on the night's agenda.