Jefferson County Commission Approves Funding for New Bus Routes

Lashunda Scales

Lashunda Scales said she finally got what she wanted Thursday when the Jefferson County Commission agreed to supply additional funding for new bus routes without trimming support of those routes in fiscal 2020.

The commission today added $9,207 to the previously approved $100,000 to expand bus service into Fairfield, Brighton, Lipscomb, Adamsville and Forestdale for three months through September. Commissioners talked in their committee meeting Tuesday about cutting transit funding for those areas in half in the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Sheila Tyson moved to provide the additional $9,207. Her motion also called for the county to pay 75 percent of that amount as fiscal 2020 begins on October 1. The affected cities would pay the remaining 25 percent.

“It’s about everyone that’s poor that needs a job, that needs access for a job,” Tyson said. “And if we want to keep talking about economic development, if we keep talking about economic development, if we keep talking about workforce development, it’s no way you can talk about those without including transportation.”

Commissioner Jimmie Stephens said he believes the $109,207 that the commission has approved will fund the new routes into the next calendar year, perhaps through February.

The commission, however, opted to delay taking action on bus funding for the 2020 fiscal year. Scales moved during Tuesday’s committee meeting for the commission to delay taking action that affects the 2020 fiscal budget. That motion died for lack of a second.

“What I had proposed on Tuesday (was) to wait before we say we would reduce the amount of funding from the county by 50 percent and make an intelligent decision because we have more information,” Scales said. “Then we can talk about ridership, we can talk about cities and their level of participation. But we would have a more informed discussion.”

Commissioner Joe Knight repeated his concern about how long the county will fund transit in struggling cities, adding that the county has taken several measures to help cash-challenged cities.

“I understand their struggles,” he said. “We’ve given them police cars, we’ve forgiven debts, we’ve talked with them about some things they can do to help. We’re paving roads out there (and) we added onto the through-road list. We’re trying to help.

“If you’ve got to have transit and you’ve got a municipality, that municipality has to participate in the funding of that transit,” Knight continued. “It’s not incumbent on the county to supplement the cities in order to have the transit.

“We’ll participate,” he said, “but it’s got to be everyone working together. But it shouldn’t fall on us. It shouldn’t fall on the county.”

Knight expressed concern about reports Tuesday that leaders in Gardendale and Fultondale had been approached about being part of the transit expansion before declining inclusion. He said the mayor of each of those north Jefferson County cities said he had not been contacted on the matter.

“It’s like a little bit of a shell game, it seems to me,” he said. “We’re going to discuss this further, obviously. If there’s a stopgap we can provide and we can afford it, we’ll do it. But where does it stop? It’s not our job to fund that in perpetuity.”