Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

Politics

April 16, 2012

Changes coming to HIRTA in Marion County

Knoxville —  

The Heart of Iowa Regional Transportation Alliance (HIRTA) intends to change the way it distributes funds and operates its bus services in Marion County.

“We wanted you to know what is going on,” Bill Pepmeier, a member of the Red Rock Area Community Action Program (RRACP) Board told the Marion County Board of Supervisors Tuesday morning. 

The current contract between Marion County and HIRTA expires June 30. The HIRTA Board, comprised of one supervisor from each county HIRTA serves, is expected to make changes that would utilize funds contributed by the counties, currently used to pay the costs of buses, to be used for daily operating expenses. 

Operating costs could potentially increase for Marion County if changes are made. Supervisor Jim Kingery represents Marion County on this board. 

“HIRTA's going to be much more involved in local activities,” Kingery said. 

HIRTA is required to provide public transportation in Marion County, even if Marion County as an entity does not have a contract with HIRTA, as it currently does. Kingery or another supervisor would remain on the HIRTA board, if the contract is not renewed. HIRTA provides free rides for Marion County residents, age 60 and over, and rides starting at $3 each way for younger residents. HIRTA provides an average of 500 rides per week in Marion County. 

The proposed changes are not popular with retiring dispatcher Sue Walters.

“I'm not a proponent of HIRTA taking over as they'd like to,” Walters told the supervisors. 

As the representatives discussed the issue with the supervisors, it became apparent that HIRTA is seeking more influence in the county because of problems in other counties. Jasper County's transportation has gone broke on two occasions. Ottumwa Transit is facing legal issues. Marion County has not had these problems. 

The changes have not been finalized. They will be voted on at the next HIRTA meeting, scheduled for April 26 at 9 a.m., at the Des Moines International Airport. Supervisor Sam Nichols believes, even if Kingery loses in a vote by the entire board, that the record should reflect Marion County's opposition to changes in HIRTA's structure. 

“We need to give Jim direction that we are resistant to HIRTA taking over,” Nichols said. 

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