2010 Census could deal financial blow to MATS

Posted by Cody Holyoke - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - They get thousands of residents from point 'A' to point 'B'.

The Montgomery Area Transit System consists of 30 to 40 busses per day--all part of moving people in a growing city.

That growth, however, could catch up with MATS by way of a $3 million cut.

"Montgomery is one of 140 cities that would be affected by this," explained Ken Groves, the city's Planning and Development director.

Groves says the 2010 census will no doubt push Montgomery's 'urbanized area' - as it's called -- over 200,000 people.

The spike means Uncle Sam will stop paying half of the $6 million dollars in MATS' yearly operating costs, according to Federal law.

"[It's based on] population of the urbanized area.  Greater than or less than 200,000.  That's all it says.  [If we're] less than 200,000, we get a subsidy.  More than, we don't," Groves explained.

City workers and groups nationwide are trying to find a solution.  One proposal involves changing the language of the existing law, basing funding on the size of the fleet.

"Even if they changed it to a 100 vehicle limit, we'd still be covered for a while," Groves said.

The city's already struggling to make ends meet financially.  The proposed FY 2010 budget cuts $100,000 from the MATS program.

Leaders say if the legislation isn't changed, that cut will be the least of their worries.

"What happens is one of two things.  Either we have to find more locally generated tax money to provide the same level of service, or we have to cut the service," Groves explained.

That's an option passengers say won't work.

"It'd be bad [. . .] because they need the service, and I don't see how they can estimate [this, based on] population with the service that they need," said Angela Smith of Montgomery.

Mayor Todd Strange says he's working with lawmakers in Washington to change the laws.

Even though the cuts probably wouldn't be felt for a few years, city workers are getting an early start to make sure they never come.

There is an upside, however, to getting bigger.  Going over the 200,000 mark will give the city millions more for roadway projects. That money, according to Groves, can't go toward the public transit system.

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