Over a month of heated discussion between current and possibly incoming Baldwin County commissioners ended Tuesday when the current commission passed the fiscal year 2019 budget unanimously, which included a provision that cut funding for the Baldwin Regional Area Transportation System to $750,000.
County Engineer Joey Nunnally explained the situation BRATS was facing before the commission’s vote.
“During the work session for the budget hearings, at first BRATS presented a shortfall of $1 million that the general fund would have to kick in, which would have kept it at level funding,” Nunnally said. “BRATS recently lost some ARC routes and ridership was dwindling, so the commission said we needed to come back with a different proposal.”
Nunnally said with the $750,000 level of funding, the transportation system would have to look at its options in the coming fiscal year, including possibly eliminating some routes and possibly some employees.
“The grants we get to operate BRATS from the federal government are geared more towards helping people on dialysis, getting people to cancer treatments,” Nunnally said. “We’re looking at having to prioritize these people we are going to serve in the county as we move forward.”
Commission Chairman Frank Burt said he had been contacted by several citizens who were upset that many of the educational routes that helped bus students to private schools would likely be cut.
“If you have a child or know of people who have children who travel these educational routes, then as of the new fiscal year, that service will be discontinued,” Burt said. “I just wanted everything out in public. I’ll support whatever the majority wants.”
Commissioner Tucker Dorsey told Burt and the audience that no one had asked for the educational routes to be cut and just wanted them to be renegotiated in a way to better cover costs.
“We want to run efficient government - we did not demand we shut down the school routes,” Dorsey said. “If St. Paul’s needs a route, what’s the cost of that? If they’re willing to pay it, run the service. If you know that you’re running Bayside and St. Paul’s and Escambia Christian, charge them the costs to run those routes. No one said no. We’re just not going to continue supplementing the BRATS system. I don’t think the commission needs to supplement private school kids getting to school.”
Dorsey said the decision to cut BRATS funding was not a political one.
“It’s about math, not politics here,” Dorsey said.
Staff said the cuts could cause BRATS to possibly drop the educational routes, but those decisions would likely not be made until the system enters into the new budget year and sees the actual revenues and costs.