The budgetary cutbacks that have caused a reduction in bus services around North Carolina could also start affecting Chapel Hill, according to officials from the towns of Carrboro and Chapel Hill.
In 2018, the state legislature cut funding from the State Maintenance Assistance Program by 26 percent, leaving many urban transit systems concerned about future funding. The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro temporarily avoided ramifications using grant funding, but officials must now work with the General Assembly and Chapel Hill Transit partners to avoid any future negative effects.
The SMAP is a program designed to help fund costs associated with transit systems for urban and small-urban communities. The funding is eligible for operational costs ranging from regular maintenance to the pay of drivers and the upkeep of bus stop shelters.
The cuts are due to North Carolina’s declining fuel tax revenue, which the state has tried to alleviate by steadily increasing the tax rate, according to Chapel Hill Council Member Michael Parker.
With the General Assembly now back in session, Parker and other local government officials are hoping to work alongside legislators to achieve their transit goals for the year.
“We’ve spoken collectively with our legislators to see if anything could be done through the legislative process to restore those funds, and hopefully we will get some, or total relief, from those quarters,” Parker said.
The Public Transit Committee — comprised of members from the Town of Chapel Hill, the Town of Carrboro and UNC — has worked with CHT to alleviate the pressure caused by the nearly $700,000 reduction in funds.
The committee was able to absorb these losses with other funds, Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Damon Seils said, but the plan for the future is less certain.
“In the next budget year, the towns and the University will either have to pay more into the system or make budget cuts,” Seils said.
Other cities in North Carolina have cut bus routes and experienced other obstacles as a result of these changes. Brian Litchfield, director of CHT, said these issues were narrowly avoided, but problems could arise as the next fiscal year approaches.
“While some systems have cut service and/or capital expenditures in the current fiscal year, we were fortunate to be able to cover the loss for this year with grant funds,” Litchfield said.
If the decrease continues into the next fiscal year, Litchfield said it is possible CHT could see delays to necessary purchases and changes in service, which could negatively affect to passengers.
“It’s a little too early to determine the appropriate course of action at this point, but unless the state removes or significantly adjusts the funding rescission, these decisions will likely need to be made as we move through the upcoming budget development process with our funding partners,” Litchfield said.
With many Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents and students who depend on the free bus line, the committee has formally requested that the General Assembly restore the budgetary funds.
“The Chapel Hill Transit funding partners, urban systems in the state and state transit association would like to see the rescission removed and have included this in their annual state legislative requests,” Litchfield said.
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