BELDING — The Dial-A-Ride transportation (DART) program is a valuable service for residents of Belding seeking public transport throughout town, but like all city services, it must be paid for and properly maintained.
Transportation Coordinator Keven Krieger is hoping his budget application approved Tuesday evening in a unanimous vote by members of the Belding City Council will see a few improvements come the department’s way via fiscal assistance from the state of Michigan.
Within the application, Krieger has requested one replacement bus valued at $70,000, one replacement administrative vehicle valued at $25,000 and a backup generator system for the Pere Marquette Depot and DART garage, valued at $30,000.
According to Krieger, the requests are 100 percent reimbursable, but will increase the expenses of the program overall to $373,931 if they are approved.
The city of Belding will contribute $80,000, down from $95,000 last year, to the program, leaving the remaining funds for the program coming from federal and state support.
“We’re not asking for any increases in any areas,” Krieger said. “We actually decreased in the local operating assistance from the city from $95,000 last year to $80,000 this year.”
Krieger said the requests for new capital improvements have been asked because they have met federal and state guidelines for doing so, such as one of the busses meeting the criteria of having been in service for more than seven years or passed 200,000 miles.
“All of those capital requests are reimbursable through the state if they are granted,” he said.
Kreiger said not all of the requests may be met by the state.
“This is the third or fourth year we’ve put in a request for a new administrative vehicle,” he said. “We ask for it because it has met its useful life. The only things we really need would be a backup generator system for the bus garage and one new bus. We lost power in December and trying to get the garage doors open was very difficult. It would also be nice to have a replacement bus, because it has met the end of its useful life, according to the state.”
Councilman Joe Feuerstein said he was upset because he does not believe the program should be asking for assistance from the state on items that don’t absolutely need to be replaced.
“I’ve been on this council for 2 1/2 years and we haven’t had to worry about an administrative vehicle,” he said. “Everybody says it’s free and won’t cost anything, but there’s nothing free. I don’t see any reason to put it in (the request) just because someone asked us to.”
City Manager Meg Mullendore said the requests to apply for the administrative vehicle along with a new bus and generator came from the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“There have been some concerns over the (choice to replace) the administrative vehicle,” she said. “His program manager through the Department of Transportation requested that he apply for that.”
Krieger said he is hopeful that the most important items, a new bus and generator, will be granted by the state.
“This is just a budget we have to submit,” he said. “They will approve our budget, and then pick apart our capital requests. We may get some of it, none of it, or all of it. Generally speaking, with a small rural transportation system such as ourself, we will at least get the one new bus we are requesting.”
Freezing pipes concern
During council comment, Mayor Pro Tem Thomas Jones voiced his frustration with as many as 15 residents in town not having running water due to freezing pipes.
“Rumors are that winters like this one may be the thing to come for the next several years,” he said. “If we have to dig up some lines to fix this, when are we going to get it done? This concerns me.”
Jones said he was concerned because of the limited number of staff for the Department of Public Works (DPW) and time needed to replace a water line.
“Is this something we need to look at contracting out?” he asked. “I know that would be expensive … it’s something we as a council have to address. Something’s got to be done. Those are the two choices. Contract it out or higher more people to the DPW.”
Mullendore said contracting services is “certainly something we can look into.” She added that the city had purchased gallons of bottled water which is currently available at city hall for residents without running water. She said once residents have contacted city hall and it has been verified that their running water is off due to frozen pipes by the DPW, the city will provide the bottled water at no cost to residents.
“We will also reimburse residents on their water bill by subtracting the difference compared to their bills from 2013,” she said.