Rough Road Ahead For Public Transportation

After barely balancing their budget, the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority now faces a state budget problem that could lead to layoffs and cuts in service. In July, the ESTA board approved rate hikes to avoid cuts in service that many elderly and disabled people use to get around the Eastern Sierra.

At an emergency Board meeting Thursday, Transit Authority Director John Helm, explained that the state has further cut transit funding which is expected to leave ESTA $215,000 in the hole next year. But, it gets worse. Cash flow in the short term is also short. Mammoth Finance Director Brad Koehn told the board that ESTA only has enough cash flow to write payroll checks next Tuesday and one pay period after that. Even those two payroll periods depend on whether or not certain promised checks to ESTA are in the mail.

With the possible 59% reduction in state funding and the immediate cash flow problem, Director Helm recommended that the ESTA board, made up of members from the Inyo and Mono Supervisors, Bishop City Council, and Mammoth Town Council, ask the Local Transportation Commission for $150,000 to cover operations costs. Some creative shifting of employees and route schedules could save $50,000 as well.

The big ticket recommendation was to ask Inyo County, Mono County, the City of Bishop, and the Town of Mammoth to loan ESTA $325,000. With no set plan on how ESTA would pay the loans back, the two Inyo Supervisors on ESTA Board, Linda Arcularius and Susan Cash, were concerned that this loan would become a gift and Inyo would not see the money come back.

The Bishop City Council members, Susan Cullen and Jeff Griffiths, along with Mammoth Council member John Eastman, Mono Supervisors Vikki Bauer and Byng Hunt, felt that their boards might approve the loan. In the end, they decided to ask the Mammoth Town council for a $125,000 loan, and ask for $100,000 from the Bishop City Council and the Mono Supervisors.

The idea of the loans is to float ESTA through the current budget crisis, but with a system that costs more to run then it takes in with fares and grant money, the ESTA board plans to meet again in September, to discuss ways to reduce spending. If the state budget plays out as expected, this could mean cuts in service and layoffs.

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