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ESTA slowed by economy

August 8, 2011

A sour economy means less spending, which means less tax revenue which means less funding to support public transportation, including the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority. ESTA will be holding a series of meetings to discuss possible service reductions. File photo

The local public transportation system is growing – slowly, and sometimes painfully, but it is growing.
Amid funding shortages and other setbacks – such as a delay in delivery of vehicles for the Reds Meadow shuttle program and increasing fuel costs – the organization will have to cut some services but will retain its workforce. It is also asking less of its member agencies than it has in the past to get over this time of year’s financial hump.
The Eastern Sierra Transit Authority will be receiving less funding from the state, “a function of this economy,” John Helm, ESTA’s director, said by phone in July. He explained that in the current economy, tax revenue to the state is down. A portion of this revenue goes toward public transportation. As revenues decline, so do services.
Despite the deficiency in funding, Helm said he did not envision fewer personnel nor a change in employee benefits.
However, according to ESTA’s administrators, the system will likely have to undergo changes to services, whether it’s cancelled routes or increased fares, to keep its head above the current wave of dangerous economic waters, but it is also beginning to stand on its own power.
The Eastern Sierra Transit Authority will be holding a series of public hearings on proposed rate increases and possible route modifications.
Helm outlined a few proposed modifications. He said the Nite Rider service is on the chopping block, but many other services will try and be reworked and made more efficient to retain the core service package.
Helm said there may be modifications to the Bishop to Mammoth and Bishop to Lone Pine routes, possibly combining them with other routes.
Meeting times are as follows:
• Mammoth Lakes in the Town of Mammoth Lakes Council Chambers, Minaret Village Shopping Center, Suite Z, at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5
• Lone Pine at Statham Hall, 138 Jackson St., at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8
• Walker at the Senior Center, 399 Mule Deer Rd., at noon Tuesday, Aug. 9,
• Tecopa at the Tecopa Senior Center, Tecopa Hot Springs Road, at noon Thursday, Aug. 11
• Bishop in the City of Bishop Council Chambers, 301 W. Line St., Friday, at 10 a.m. Aug. 12
A major setback Helm blames on bureaucracy and red-tape at the federal level, is the failure of delivery of vehicles on time for this year’s seasonal Red’s Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle service. Helm said ESTA retains the contract with the Forest Service for the shuttle service, but through an agreement, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area will provide the service this year and ESTA will regain the operation with new vehicles.
He said the delivery failure was unexpected.
ESTA had entered into a partnership with the Forest Service to begin offering the Red’s Meadow/Devil’s Postpile shuttle service beginning operation June 12, 2009.
Helm explained that there is no correlation between a lack of revenue causing cuts in services and a need for a loan/line-of-credit, which ESTA has requested of its member agencies – the City of Bishop, the Town of Mammoth, Inyo and Mono counties – for the third fiscal year in a row.
ESTA Transit Analyst Jill Batchelder explained that this time of year, the beginning of ESTA’s new fiscal year, comes with large bills, especially the insurance due as a yearly lump sum. ESTA is also grant-driven, but paid after the fact in reimbursements, so ESTA provides the service first, and then gets paid. For these reasons, ESTA asks for a small loan to get it through this difficult time of year.
The money is paid back, always in a timely manner, according to Batchelder and Denise Gillespie, Bishop’s assistant city clerk.
As ESTA grows, Batchelder explained, it is also growing a fund balance to pay for exactly these large annual bills.
The amount ESTA has requested from its member agencies this year has decreased from $325,000 in 2008-09 to $200,000 in 2009-10 and now $100,000 for 2010-11, split between the four groups for $25,000 each this fiscal year.
So far, the Bishop City Council has agreed to the request, and the item will come before the Mammoth Town Council on Aug. 8. The Inyo County Board of Supervisors said at its July 19 meeting that it supports the idea, but wants to pass its own budget before committing to ESTA. Mono County has been asked but it could not be confirmed at press time whether or not it would commit.
Last year, ESTA was also working off a one-time funding injection from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Batchelder explained those funds are now gone and there is still incredible uncertainty concerning the state budget and what impacts it will have on transit funding.
For more information call ESTA at (760) 872-1901 or (800) 922-1930.

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