During the Aug. 27 Baldwin County Commission budget hearing, several commissioners had this to say to the county’s BRATS transportation service staff - be prepared for cuts this year.
Commissioner Chris Elliott said that despite decreased riderships for the BRATS system over the last several years, the proposed 2019 budget number showed the system asking for an increase in funds.
“What I’m seeing here is a large budget increase for this coming year despite that fact that the number of riders are down and that we’ve lost some of the contracts we’ve had with other entities,” Elliott said. “How do you justify asking for more money when fewer people are actually using the service?”
County Engineer Joey Nunnally said much of the increase in costs for the BRATS program was in the form of staff salaries and benefits costs.
“These are employees who get merit raises and have the same benefits costs as every other county employee, and that adds up over time,” Nunnally said.
Elliott and Commissioner Tucker Dorsey said they felt it was past time to start looking at possibly cutting routes, looking at smaller vehicles and possibly cutting staff for the system.
“We are not talking about impacting any of these federal programs,” Elliott said. “We’re just talking about how we run our operation and how efficiently we’re doing that. We’re talking about using different equipment, we’re talking about reduction of employees with a correlation that will come from a reduction in the number of routes.”
“The draw on the commission for this is almost $1 million,” Dorsey said. “That number has got to be less than that.”
Commissioners Frank Burt and Skip Gruber seemed opposed to any funding change for BRATS, with Burt saying the transportation service provided a needed help for many Baldwin County residents.
“We aren’t supposed to make money doing this,” Burt said. “If you want to cut back on quality of life, that’s one way to do it.”
The BRATS system’s draw on the county last year was around $875,000, with this coming budget year’s ask coming it at around $999,000.
BRATS director Taylor Rider said he had only received direction to look for cuts from the commissioners two to three weeks before the budgeting process began and said he would like to discuss the matter in more depth with the newly elected commission in January.
“It’s clear this is going to have to be done through a reduction in budget,” Elliott said. “I was hoping to have some direction from staff instead of me having to drive BRATS.”
The commissioners discussed the issue with Commissioner-Elect Jeb Ball and GOP commission candidate Joe Davis, who were present for the meeting, and came to a $500,000 total appropriation for the BRATS system.
“Some of us new guys will be looking at ways to provide this service and do it more efficiently if we’re elected,” Davis said. “We’re going to be taking a long, hard look at this and see what needs to be done.”