CATS looking for upwards of $11M to fund capital needs outlined in strategic plan

The Capital Area Transit System will need as much as $11 million over the next 18 months to implement the goals contained in a new strategic plan, which include replacing 11 buses, constructing four new transit hubs and building additional bus shelters.

At a board retreat held this past weekend, CATS administrators and board members discussed the strategic plan and heard from a banker and a bond experts about potential funding sources to help achieve the goals. Though voters in 2012 passed a dedicated, 10-year millage to create a long-term funding source for the bus system and address many of its long-term problems, CATS spokesperson Amie McNaylor says the $16 million a year generated by the property tax is not enough to take care of CATS’ current capital needs.

“A big piece of what was campaigned on in 2012 was the system expansion that we delivered in March of 2014—growing the routes from 20 to 30, making changes to existing routes and creating transfer systems around town,” McNaylor says. “With that we increased our service by 40%, so a lot of the additional tax dollars have gone to fund the increased service.”

CATS’ total budget for 2015 is $27 million.

CATS will not seek additional tax dollars to help fund the capital needs in its strategic plan. Rather, the agency will try to cobble together funds from a combination of grants and loans.  Federal transit grants for capital projects are limited so most of the money will likely come from a conventional financing or a bond issue.

CATS CEO Bob Mirabito and his staff will spend the next few weeks putting together a final number for the capital projects wish list, as well as options about how to pay for them. At the retreat the board said it would like the strategic plan implemented by the end of 2016. Mirabito says the planning process was positive and contends the administration and the board are on the same page.

“We walked into the retreat hoping to establish a roadmap for the future of CATS, and the board delivered, even more than we hoped,” he says. “Thanks to their efforts and dedication, we left with what we feel is a unified direction for CATS moving forward. … These plans are in their infancy, but as we develop timelines and next steps we will communicate those to the public.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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