County considers public transit
The Putnam County Commissioners agreed on Tuesday to sign a letter to the Indiana Department of Transportation expressing support for a public transportation system in Putnam County.
Jewel Echelbarger of Rural Transit in Elletsville is directing the Putnam County project. She told the commissioners a countywide system could be in place as soon as 2009.
Echelbarger presented the commissioners with a sample budget for the system's first year.
"I just wanted to give you an idea of what a public transportation budget looked like," she said. "It's only an idea of what could be done."
The U.S. Department of Transportation would provide a 50-50 match for operations and an 80-20 match for capital as part of its Rural and Small Urban Areas (5311) program.
This program provides formula funding to states for the purpose of supporting public transportation in areas with populations of 50,000 or less.
Echelbarger's projections are that $127,000 would have to come from sources other than the U.S. Department of Transportation in 2009. A portion of the money would be required to come from the county commissioners and council.
"The only way public transportation in Putnam County will happen is if the county puts in some money," Echelbarger said. "It's up to the county to decide what they're going to put in. At this point, all I need for INDOT is a letter stating it is your intent to proceed (with a public transit project)."
After a year of operation, funds from INDOT would start coming in.
Greencastle Mayor Sue Murray said the city was behind the project and willing to kick in funds.
"There are a lot of people that will potentially be serviced by this," she said.
Echelbarger said the county could contribute whatever amount of money the commissioners and council agreed upon to the project.
"It could be $2,000, $3,000, I don't care," she said. "I'm going to be out in the community raising the rest."
Commission President Gene Beck said although he saw the need for a system, he didn't know where the money from the county would come from.
Commissioner Jim Baird said he wanted to make sure there was a cap on the amount of money the county would contribute to the project.
"I don't want it to be open-ended," he said.
Jim Stevens, director of the Putnam County Senior Center, said the center took such a large cut in United Way funding that he is unsure whether its van transportation program will be able to continue.
"I just want everybody to understand how desperate people are," he said.
Stevens said he could speak to the need for public transportation in Putnam County.
"We can only transport people 55 and older," he said. "Anyone in a wheelchair we can't take. We turn down pages of people every day because they just don't qualify."
Bill Dory, director of Greencastle/Putnam County Development Center, said a public transportation system would be an economic development boon for the area.
"Employers talk about turnover and absenteeism," he said. "They lost good employees because of car troubles. This would be a second way for them to get to work.
"I also have clients ask if we have public transportation," he added.
Passenger fares would also go toward expenses. Other funding sources Echelbarger suggested included Area 7 Agency on Aging, Medicaid, Putnam County municipalities, DePauw University and service agencies.
"We do want to keep fares low," Echelbarger said. "In the future, we will be funded according to the number of riders."
Echelbarger included a statement from Jeffrey D. Pullis, director of consulting services for Texas-based McDonald Transit Associates Inc., in her presentation.
"Rural transit would benefit the Putnam County economy because it produces employment, sales and tax revenues," Pullis wrote. "Every $1 spent on rural transit in Putnam County would generate $3.06 in direct economic benefits."
Pullis also pointed out that rural transit in Putnam County would reduce traffic, air pollutant emissions, vehicle accident and parking needs.
Echelbarger has worked on public transit projects in several other rural Indiana counties, and considers herself a social service worker.
"I believe right now that people are really having a tough time," she said. "Gas prices are terrible. Food prices are terrible."