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Bus service too costly to fund, K.G. says

September 6, 2012 12:10 am

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King George resident Carolyn Dudley rides a FREDericksburg Regional Transit bus to her job at Dahlgren before bus service ceased earlier this year.

By CATHY DYSON

King George County officials hoped to provide other options for residents when they stopped funding the FRED bus system, but it looks as if they've hit a dead end.

On Tuesday, the board heard a proposal from a third private agency to provide a bus system in the rural county. Like two other private options offered in June, the third would cost almost twice as much as King George paid for its last year of service with the FREDericksburg Regional Transit system.

"This latest attempt shows that providing transportation in a rural community is a fiscal challenge, and it's not one that we can take on," said Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. "My suggestion is that we're done."

That suggestion is quite different from the one supervisors had in March 2011, when the board decided to cut the FRED funding after three years of back-and-forth discussions.

Chairman Cedell Brooks Jr., a longtime supporter of public transportation, didn't want to leave people without wheels, and asked the county to look into other services.

Supervisors agreed, and formed a committee to see what costs might be. Tim Smith, director of the King George Department of Parks and Recreation, gave several presentations, including Tuesday's report that a business wanted $196,560 a year to provide 60 hours of bus service a week.

King George paid FRED $100,000 for its final year of service. FRED buses ran in the county from 2005 until June 29, 2012.

All the quotes Smith got had the same financial setup: The county would subsidize the cost, while riders would pay 50 cents to $1 per trip.

That's not the kind of operation the supervisors wanted.

"I think it's extremely unfortunate that they're expecting the county to pick up the bulk of the expense," said Supervisor Ruby Brabo.

Three years ago, when the depressed economy started tightening county purse strings, supervisors started to question how many residents rode the bus.

Supervisors said ridership numbers provided by FRED told how many trips were taken by residents, but not how many people were on the bus. Supervisor Joe Grzeika, in particular, said he believed the county was paying a high price--reportedly as much as $8 a trip--for a service that benefited a small segment of the population.

When the county solicited requests from private agencies, officials hoped businesses would put more of the financial burden on riders.

FRED bus riders interviewed by The Free Lance-Star in June also indicated they'd be willing to pay more than 75 cents per trip.

But the transportation businesses--at least the ones that submitted bids--don't operate that way, Smith said. They all pass the bulk of the financial burden to the locality.

MORE ON ROUTE 206

Supervisors continue to discuss propose changes at the intersection of State Route 206 and Owens Road. According to a traffic study, 57,949 vehicles used Route 206 during a recent seven-day period--and that's just in the eastbound lane, heading toward Dahlgren, said Sheriff Steve Dempsey.

The average speed was 43 miles per hour; the posted speed limit is 40.

Supervisors, especially Brabo, whose district includes the area, oppose the Virginia Department of Transportation's plan to add turn lanes. Brabo believes the additional lanes will make the intersection more dangerous.

VDOT's Northern Neck Residency Administrator David Brown is scheduled to attend the Sept. 18 Board of Supervisors meeting to provide an update.

BETTER TO BUY

Supervisors approved the purchases of five modular trailers ($102,100) at King George Elementary School, five school buses ($386,730) and additional cafeteria equipment ($26,117).

It costs $31,400 a year to lease a trailer, but only $20,420 to buy one.

NO COOKING ALLOWED

The new stadium at King George High School is getting ready for its opening game on Sept. 21.

"It's great to see the progress there," Sisson said.

Brooks asked if people will be able to cook in the new concession building. County Administrator Travis Quesenberry said it will have a warming station only; cooking equipment was cut from the budget because it cost another $50,000.

The school boosters may provide some additional equipment, he said.

MORE ABOUT HORSES

The issue of horses in subdivisions isn't dead yet. Resident Amy Reese asked the supervisors on Tuesday to reconsider making a change to the subdivision ordinance that says horses aren't allowed.

She pointed out that the way the code is written, she could put bison, camels or emus on her 10-acre property or in the barn she and her husband, David, had built, just not horses.

"Why does King George all of a sudden have an issue with that particular species?" she asked about horses.

Supervisors asked the Planning Commission to look at the issue after David Reese brought his case to the board in December 2011. Planners spent almost a year discussing the ordinance and determined that making a change to allow horses would cause more problems than it solved.

Supervisors agreed last month to leave the ordinance alone.

But after Amy Reese's appeal, the board decided to talk with the Planning Commission about it again when the two groups get together on Oct. 2 to discuss the Comprehensive Plan. That meeting is planned for 5 p.m. in the board meeting room.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com





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