Small town representation pushedfor WTA board

Published on Thu, May 17, 2001 by Brendan Shriane

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Small town representation pushed
for WTA board

By Brendan Shriane

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic is spearheading an effort to boost input from smaller cities at the Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) by giving them more seats on the board.

The changes may not happen in time, however, to influence possible public transportation cuts in Whatcom County.

A reorganization of WTA’s board might not happen until fall. WTA general manager Richard Walsh said the WTA is required to review the structure of the board of directors every four years. At the last review of the board in the spring of 1997 a similar proposal to increase the board’s size from seven to nine was rejected.

Tomsic thinks the smaller cities would benefit from two additional seats on the WTA’s board. The board has three representatives from Bellingham, two countywide seats, one shared by Blaine and Ferndale, currently occupied by Ferndale City Council member Jerry Landcastle, and one that covers Lynden, Everson, Nooksack and Sumas.

The Blaine proposal would split the Blaine/Ferndale seat and create another seat for the small towns in the eastern part of the county. If the board is expanded to nine, Bellingham would have the vast majority of ridership but only one-third of the votes.

In the meantime, the WTA is engaged in a public outreach program to explore options to solve its current funding crisis.

The WTA needs to make up a $6 million annual shortfall created when the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) was turfed following voter passage of I-695. The WTA is currently using reserves gathered over the last ten or 12 years.

Some ideas bandied about to make up the funding gap are advertising wraps, which could bring in up to $250,000, increased fares and service reductions.

Bus routes outside of Bellingham represent about 15 percent of WTA ridership and are likely to be among the first casualties if and when the WTA starts making cuts. “The decisions are based on available dollars, ridership, what makes good sense and works for the community,” Landcastle said.

“You’d like to be at the table when these decisions are made instead of hearing about them later,” Tomsic said. “We don’t want to lose what little bus service we do get.”
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