TX: Castle Hills Considers Cutting VIA Service

July 15--SAN ANTONIO -- A measure to boot VIA Metropolitan Transit bus service out of Castle Hills could end up on the November ballot, and officials hope to hear from the public about the proposal at a town hall meeting Tuesday night.

The meeting, which includes a question-and-answer portion, starts at 6:30 p.m. at Castle Hills City Hall, 209 Lemonwood Drive.

The City Council has not decided if, or how, to use the funds that are currently earmarked for bus service should voters choose to sever the suburban city's relationship to VIA. But officials have considered allocating the money to street improvements.

The city dedicates a half-cent sales tax to VIA to pay for the bus service, which amounts to just less than $500,000 annually, said Councilman John Squire. Twelve suburban cities pay VIA the same half-cent sales for regular bus service and for VIATrans, the agency's appointment-based service for riders with disabilities.

There are 84 bus stops in Castle Hills, which has 4,200 people, according to the city's website. On an average weekday, VIA said 901 people board the bus in Castle Hills, and 868 get off at a bus stop in the city. A total of 289,834 boardings have been recorded there so far this fiscal year, VIA said. There are 59 registered VIATrans clients in Castle Hills, the majority of whom live at the Wedgewood Apartments for residents age 55 and up.

The bus service debate is unfolding while Castle Hills is in the grips of a major leadership turnover, with the resignation of three city officials, including the mayor, in the last several weeks..Mayor Tim Howell, a council member who was selected to replace Bruce Smiley-Kaliff after he resigned last month, said the council wants to gauge the public's interest in actually seeing the VIA issue on the November ballot.

"I think that the reason that this town hall is so important is that we have to get the facts," Howell said.

VIA will give a presentation, and someone from the state comptroller's office also will present how the sales-tax revenue could otherwise be used. Council members must decide in the next several weeks whether to put the issue to vote.

vdavila@express-news.net

Twitter: @viannadavila

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