Jan. 21--SAN ANTONIO -- Shavano Park Mayor David Marne is thrilled about his recent election to the VIA Metropolitan Transit board, even though the suburb he represents could soon give the bus service the boot.
Shavano Park officials are looking at how to spend sales tax revenue, which could mean asking voters if they want to continue allocating $400,000 annually for VIA. One route, No. 97, serves the suburb of 3,200 people, as does VIA's appointment-based service for the disabled, VIATrans.
But Marne's election to the board includes another potential wrinkle -- VIA board attorney Frank Garza believes that Marne has to resign as mayor now that he's been elected to the board, in order to avoid any "conflicting loyalties" that might arise by holding both positions.
Marne, serving his fifth two-year term as mayor of the North Side suburb just inside Loop 1604, emphatically brushed off questions about his eligibility to join the board.
"I've discussed this with many people whose opinions I value, and they don't believe that there is any kind of conflict there at all," said Marne, who was elected by members of the Greater Bexar County Council of Cities last week to represent 12 suburban cities as a VIA trustee. He said he wants to join VIA to ensure that the agency beefs up its bus service, particularly for suburban cities -- even if Shavano Park might not be one of them.
In the past year or two, Shavano Park became a donor city -- it contributes more sales tax revenue to VIA than what it costs VIA to provide the bus service because sales tax revenues have increased in recent years in the suburb, said Charlie Gonzalez, VIA's senior vice president of public engagement.
Marne's concern is that the level of service has remained unchanged, despite the spike in revenue.
Anytime anything is purchased in Shavano Park, as in any city that contracts with VIA, a half-cent for every $1 spent goes toward VIA service.
VIA ridership numbers for the city weren't immediately available, but American Community Survey data from 2008 to 2012 indicated that, statistically, 0 percent of people in Shavano Park used public transit to get to work, excluding taxicabs, while more than 85 percent of residents commuted to work alone. The same survey estimates the median household income at $166,607.
The Shavano Park City Council must decide by Feb. 28 whether to put a referendum on VIA service on the May ballot. Council members will discuss the issue at a workshop Tuesday night.
Marne maintains that even if VIA service is eliminated, that shouldn't hinder his ability to represent other suburban populations.
Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley, who coordinated the recent suburban cities election for the GBBC, said she's never before encountered a situation in which the chosen representative lived in a community that might decide not to fund VIA service. She said the issue was not brought up during the voting process and that she learned of it only late last week.
"Until somebody tells us otherwise, he's the representative, and we'll go from there," she said, adding she will defer to Al Suarez, the Converse mayor who is chairman of the GBBC.
Suarez said the organization will discuss the matter when its members meet next month, if it makes it on the Shavano Park ballot, but added that Marne has been a great suburban cities representative on the GBBC.
VIA is in the middle of its biggest leadership changeover in recent memory, with at least five new trustees slated to join the board in the coming weeks and months.
Of the 11 board members, two slots are for representatives from the 12 suburban cities that currently contract with VIA for bus service. Marne will replace outgoing suburban cities representative Bob Martin, who stepped down late last year.
Gonzalez said Marne is eligible to serve because Shavano Park voters have not yet decided to cut VIA service, nor have city officials there chosen to put it on a ballot. VIA President and CEO Jeffrey Arndt has already spoken to Marne to welcome him to the organization.