Columbia’s City Council will vote Tuesday night on a proposal they hope will save the city’s bus system.
Transit officials are scrambling to find almost $11 million to fund the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority over the next two years after a sales tax was rejected by voters last month.
The proposal would instead raise the franchise fee the city charges South Carolina Electric and Gas to provide electricity for city residents. The increase (from 3 percent to 5 percent) would cost residents an extra $1.60 per month, on average. CMRTA spokesperson Brittany McMillan says the fee would spread the cost evenly for all residents.’
Everyone is going to equally pay for this service in the community. I think it’s the fair and equitable way for the city to help fund the system. It’s not just a vehicle registration fee, which is only on people who own cars. Everybody pays it.
The fee would also net government agencies and churches, which do not pay property taxes.
McMillan says Columbia needs to fund for the buses somehow.
It’s a community service. It’s there for the greater good of the community, just like police, ambulance, schools, (and) the library system. Not everyone utilizes it, but it’s there so that everyone can access it.
A franchise fee is charged by the city on SCE&G for the water and electric services it provides residents. Company spokesman Robert Yanity says the utility has no control over what the city charges.
We actually don’t have a part in what the franchise fees are. That is up to the city of Columbia. We are just the collector of that fee.
He said customers would begin paying the increase in 2012, although the city would collect a fee from the company in June.
The city says the fee will provide an additional $3.6 million for the service. However, funding the bus system would still require funding from Richland County, as well. Right now, a vehicle fee provides the county’s share, but officials have indicated they wish to end the unpopular fee next year. McMillan said county officials may decide to also raise the franchise fee they charge SCE&G.
Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin said Monday that city officials need to act before January, so CMRTA knows whether or not to scale back its services in 2011.
In November, transit officials warned inaction by the city would require them to slash bus service to Midlands residents by 75 percent, starting in June 2011 (see article).
The State newspaper reports the city will hold a hearing for residents on December 28.