City budget plan gains drug court, Trans-AID hike

City budget plan gains drug court, Trans-AID hike
June 15
05:00 2017

Funding for a drug court, an extension for an underutilized bus route and a rate increase for Trans-AID have been added to the City of Winston-Salem’s proposed $482.2 million budget.

The finance committee voted to send a budget to the full council for approval on Monday that contains a Trans-AID rate increase from 50 cent to $1 and ends its Medicaid exemption for non-medical trips.

The entirety of the money that’s expected to come from the change, $90,000, will be used for 3,000 monthly bus passes to be distributed through local agencies to low-income Trans-AID passengers that would be adversely affected by the increase. Trans-AID provides on-demand rides to qualifying handicap riders. The increase will mean riding Trans-AID will cost as much as “fixed route” city buses.

“We’re the only system in the state that charges less for Trans-AID than it charges for its fixed route and that is creating a structural problem with growth and expenses for the system that is threatening our ability to finance the fixed route improvements that serves a lot more low-income folks than Trans-AID,” said City Council Member Dan Besse.

Besse said Winston-Salem has the lowest Trans-AID rate in the state, which he credited for a 26 percent increase in ridership in the last four years and 46 percent increase in the cost of the service in the last five years. It costs four times per rider for Trans-AID than it does for bus riders. In the last five years, one out of three additional dollars that went into transit system improvements went to Trans-AID, even though the service provides less than 7 percent of the rides.

Most Trans-AID riders who attended public comment sessions on the rate increase opposed it. Many on fixed budgets said the increase will be a burden. City Council Member James Taylor, who is also The Chronicle’s publisher, said after listening to objections from his constituents in the Southeast Ward that he won’t vote for a budget that includes the rate increase.

The council did agree with Taylor on adding funds to revive the adult drug court to deal with the growing number of local drug cases, including the epidemic of opioid use.

“I feel like as chairman of public safety, this is a worthwhile request,” said Taylor in a meeting last week. “It’s something that’s certainly needed.”

The court uses a series of sanctions and incentives to address drug abuse and previously existed from 1996 until 2011, when its funding was cut by the General Assembly. The city is contributing $35,000 to pay half of a court coordinator position and incentives. The city is hoping the county will pay the other half and, if not, that private money could help fund the rest. The court will have one paid position, since judges, attorneys and drug treatment professionals will donate their time to the program.

There was also an extension given on bus Route 100, a new route with low ridership that connects local colleges. The budget now funds the route for a year to see if ridership improves. Staff will bring back a report on its performance after six months.  Robert Clark, City Council finace chairman said he wasn’t sure if he could vote on the budget because of the route’s high cost per rider.

Numerous things were considered but did not make it into the budget, including an additional $2 million for street refacing that would’ve required doubling the motor vehicle tax. The council decided to use existing staff to address concerns they had on litter and illegal signs rather than pay for a new position to deal with it.  An annual military incentive for sworn police officers and certified fire fighters also didn’t make it in the budget.

The budget will increase the property tax rate by 1.24 cents per $100 of property value. It’ll be voted on by the City Council on Monday, June 19, and will go into effect on July 1.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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