Without a more reliable funding source, Cascade East Transit may need to alter its service

by: CENTRAL OREGON FILE PHOTO - Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council is trying to develop more sustainable funding for the Cascade East Transit bus system, which serves several Central Oregon communities.

After serving Central Oregon for the past five years, Cascade East Transit (CET) will need more sustainable funding to keep the program reliable.

The region-wide bus system is run by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) and provides in-town and community-to-community transportation for Prineville, Bend, Redmond, Madras, and Culver. Although the riders pay a fee to ride the bus, COIC has funded CET with multiple partnerships and contracts.

"The approach we took in building up the system was to be entrepreneurial," said Andrew Spreadborough, COIC's interim executive director, "to pursue every opportunity for funding for the system that we could find."

Crook County and the City of Prineville have each contributed annually to CET. The county has contributed $10,000 since 2008, and city contributions have varied between $4,700 during the 2010-11 fiscal year, and $10,000 for the 2013-14 year.

Despite those steady donations, COIC has found their other revenue sources, more than 40 overall, have come and gone from year to year. In addition, their five-year contract with the City of Bend for $1 million per year is about to expire.

"The problem we are starting to realize is while that entrepreneurial approach really worked well during the start-up phase, we are experiencing very volatile funding," Spreadborough said. "Our board has been grappling with issues around sustainability for the transit system probably for over two years now."

Consequently, COIC is now looking for more long-term, dedicated funding for CET that they can rely year after year. They have formed a committee comprised of elected officials from throughout the region and business representatives to study the problem and come up with solutions.

The committee has met four times and has gathered and analyzed data about the services provided and the funding model to formulate potential scenarios going forward.

"Scenario A would be our current level," Spreadborough said. "Scenario B would be kind of a fully-funded current service level that provides some of the things that are missing." Such additions could include a flex route system in Prineville.

"Scenario C is a more robust build-out," Spreadborough continued. "It meets the demands for weekend service, additional hours, additional routes, and additional inter-community routes."

In addition to analyzing the services and funding, the committee utilized a grant to conduct a statistically-valid phone survey of residents in Bend, Redmond, Madras, and Prineville to determine their level of support for a new tax. Spreadborough explained that some communities fund mass transit through a payroll tax, utility fees, or property taxes.

The idea did not garner much support. A proposed 20-cent tax increase per thousand dollars of assessed property value received 40 percent approval.

Spreadborough said that the committee meetings should conclude in November at which time they will develop recommendations for future funding. They will share those proposals with city and county governments before presenting them to the COIC board.

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