July 29--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha-Valley Regional Transportation Authority could be taking another hit in funding because of a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Officials with KRT are concerned that a recent decision made by the federal agency to redefine Charleston and Huntington as one metro area will significantly affect the agency's funding.
The federal agency opted to consider Charleston and Huntington as a single metro area, which also includes Putnam County.
The move could mean federal dollars provided to KRT could no longer be used for operating expenses because the population of the new metro area is more than 200,000, KRT General Manager Dennis Dawson said.
KRT officials are asking Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for assistance.
During the current fiscal year, the authority will receive $2.7 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The entire amount went to help pay for operating expenses such as salaries and fuel, Dawson said.
"We're not sure what will happen if we can't use the federal money for operating expenses," Dawson said. "It would definitely change how we do business at KRT."
The current fiscal year budget for KRT is about $13 million. That includes the $2.7 million from the federal government along with $7.4 million from the county excess levy on property and about $2.2 million in revenue generated by KRT itself.
Federal dollars still would be provided, but the money could be used only for capital expenses such as buying buses or building garages, Dawson said.
Dawson said the agency usually applies for grants when capital projects are necessary.
"And we don't have any money to move into our operating expenses to make up for this federal money," he said.
Dawson said he was unsure why the U.S. Department of Commerce made the change.
"It may be in their rules and regulations that once an urbanized area reaches 200,000 people or more, they combine them," he said. "It's some bureaucrat in Washington saying this is the way it is without any regard for what's going to happen."
Dawson said KRT officials would have to look at all aspects of the operation if the federal money could no longer be used for operating expenses. He did not know if routes would have to be cut or if bus fares would have to be increased.
"Until we know exactly what the situation is, we don't know what we'll have to do," he said. "I just can't speculate."
"We just don't know what's going to happen and we're waiting with bated breath," Dawson said.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper says there's legitimate reason to be concerned.
"This would mean less public transportation," he said. "And this would impact those who need it the most."
Carper said people rely on the buses to get to work and to shop.
Dawson said although cutting routes would be explored, it would be a last resort.
"We have a lot of people riding the bus," he said. "Now would be a really bad time to start cutting bus service."
Dawson agreed that eliminating bus service would hurt the community. He said the number of people using KRT service continues to grow. More and more people are riding the bus instead of paying high gas prices for personal vehicles.
In June 2010, a total of 210,000 people rode KRT buses. That increased to 223,000 last month, Dawson said.
"And that's a significant increase," he said.
Dawson said he was not sure how the federal funding change would unfold. It could take place over a two- or three-year time span.
"But that's something else that is on the table," he said.
KRT officials sent a letter to Capito asking for her assistance. They want her to pressure the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to exempt both Charleston and Huntington from the stipulation, Dawson said.
"We're asking that transit systems that run less than 75 buses during peak hours be able to use federal funding for operating expenses," Dawson said.