July 16--WILLMAR -- Another step was taken this week in the expected Jan. 1 merger of transit systems in Kandiyohi and Renville counties, and now there's talk of adding a third county.
At their meeting Tuesday, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners gave final approval to a joint powers agreement for the merged operation of the Kandiyohi Area Transit system and Renville County's Heartland Express.
Renville County is expected to take action on the joint powers agreement in the near future.
The Willmar City Council is expected to vote on the joint powers agreement at its July 21 meeting.
In 1998, Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar created KAT through a joint powers agreement. Since then, KAT has continually expanded its county-wide service.
Heartland Express, which began in 1996, is operated by Renville County as a service to county residents.
The state has been encouraging transit entities to merge to create a more regional system that crosses county borders.
The joint powers resolution states that the merger is in the "best interests of the people" in order to obtain funding and to provide centralized planning and implementation of transit services in this region.
Kandiyohi and Renville counties have been studying a merger since last year and this year a new route between Willmar and Litchfield, which is in Meeker County, began operating.
Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dean Shuck said if the new merger between Kandiyohi and Renville counties go well, it's possible the Meeker County transit system may also want to join in.
County Board Chairman Jim Butterfield said he has heard Meeker County is "very interested" in being part of the new joint powers agreement.
After the agreement received unanimous approval Tuesday, Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl said it was "amazing" how rural Minnesota communities "pulled together" to provide transit to communities.
If the merger receives final approval, a joint powers board made up of city and county elected officials, a 14-member operations board and an executive director will oversee operations of the new system.
The new system will also be given a new name. A decision on what that name will be has not been decided yet, said Tiffany Collins, KAT transit director.
Copyright 2014 - West Central Tribune, Willmar, Minn.