by Victor Lopez
MIDLAND/ODESSA--Despite operating $50,000 in the red this year, the Midland-Odessa Urban Transit District met Wednesday and decided, they can fix the problem without affecting service.
A shortage of funds from the Texas Department of Transportation wasn't the only thing that led to EZ Rider's budget problems. Even with a possible end in sight, board members want to make sure, this is a cure and not just a bandaid.
"We have, I believe, set ourselves on the course to fixing the disease," Midland City Councilman John James, said.
James was very specific when he voiced his concerns at Wednesday's board meeting.
All in all, he says he's happy with the outcome, "We've been through this process over the last couple of months, of identifying those things that have been getting us in trouble, financially, and trying to undo those things so we could end the year in a positive budget light and I think we're very much on that road."
They were looking for $550,000 to get them over the hump. If all the figures add up, they were able to find $150,000, in line item budget re-allocation.
"The federal government will fund more of certain line items than we were asking them to do. So, basically we're getting them to fund more for ADA, transportation and some other items," Board Chairman, Thomas Blackstone from Odessa, said.
A fierce discussion over other budget problems took place, including overtime, a shortage of employees, even travel expenses. In the end, board members were able to agree, no cuts in service would happen.
When word got out of possible service cutbacks, public outcry was overwhelming. A petition of over 1,500 signatures, plus dozens of letters, were included in the meeting packet for Wednesday. And that was just what staff had time to put together.
According to James, "I love the fact there was a lot of support. The board still has the responsibility to use the citizen's dollars in the most efficient and wisest way we can."
On the bright side, EZ Rider has seen an 28% increase in the number of riders since last year as well as a 20% increase in paratransit.
"We provide service for people to go to their dialysis and anyone who needs any kind of ADA transportation. We can take care of that. We're providing a service for people who otherwise would be stuck at home, without any way to get any where," Blackstone said.
Councilman James says they seem to have found their proverbial cure, but the board still has challenges ahead, "I think we're in good shape for now. (We) need to continue to look very, very closely, for ways we can streamline and make the system more efficient. I think we are well on our way to doing that so that we don't have these conversations about deficit in the future."
EZ Rider is looking at hiring 6 new, part-time drivers, to cut back on overtime and not incurring any new debts, unless absolutely necessary.