Lake Lapper grounded until June
Effective March 1, the Lake Lapper will be taken off the road.
Due to impending financial constraints, the Tahoe Transportation District voted unanimously on Friday to terminate a lakewide transit system over the next three months.
For the third time in four months, TTD board members failed to understand the ’97-’98 budget proposed by executive director Richard Hill. After an hour-long, brain-racking budget session, it was discovered that as of this June, the agency would have a deficit of at least $27,000. Much to the chagrin of board members, the Lake Lapper was sacrificed this spring so a balanced budget could be adopted. Eight months into the fiscal year and the board hasn’t penciled in the final numbers.
“This is cut and dry,” said Steve Weissinger, a Douglas County commissioner and TTD board member. “We’re here to make tough choices. We don’t have the money right now.”
Characterized as purely a business decision, the board opted to renew Lake Lapper service during the peak summer season, June through September. The buses may be used for other public systems on the South and North Shore in the interim.
The Lapper wasn’t the only victim of a drastic cost-saving measure. A trolley program that runs from the South Shore casinos to Emerald Bay in the summer also lost $6,750 from its budget. The trolley’s sponsor, the South Shore Transit Management Association, was relying on $50,000 from TTD this year. According to SSTMA Director Dick Powers, El Dorado County may forfeit part of its $18,000 share to the trolley, which would reduce service unless alternate funds are found.
Mercilessly pitted against one another, the Lapper and the trolley both have their own set of supporters on the board. Trolley proponents pointed to rising ridership figures since its first season while Lapper backers say the system provides a valued, regional service to passengers. Tempers flared when it was apparent TTD’s budget was sinking into the red and something had to give.
“We need to try and keep emotion out of this,” said Ken Daley, who sits on an advisory board to the district. “I’m not advocating either program but I’m trying to bring some sanity to this discussion. We are in the hole and we have to make this a business decision.”
Hill quickly responded that Tahoe may not have another chance to start a similar system if the Lapper’s buses are sold at an auction. The Lapper was mostly funded by a Caltrans demonstration grant that expires this June. In December, the TTD board cut its service back dramatically because of its financial state.
The crux of the transit problem in Tahoe is locating the money to operate the buses, which has left agencies like the TTD in dire straits. There are a few critics who say TTD hasn’t done enough in soliciting state and federal agencies for money. Some TTD board members have rushed to Hill’s aid, stating a one-man staff can’t do all of the work. Hill is seeking $30,000 from the board for an administrative assistant to manage the pile of paperwork.
Gaping discrepancies and assumptions in the budget have contributed to TTD’s problems. Two projections that were clarified at the meeting showed the agency’s fiscal potholes.
When asked about the amount of collected rental car mitigation funds – a major source of funding – Hill said the first six months have yielded only $30,000. By the end of the 12-month period, budget estimates were approximately $104,000. Assuming the funding chain would continue a slow turnaround (the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency passes the money from rental car companies to TTD), the projections would come up short $44,000.
Another Caltrans grant must be used by June for shelters and benches at various bus stops in the basin. The $59,000 grant was listed in the budget but a $12,000 match by local agencies wasn’t. Because the match hasn’t been secured, the grant may be lost altogether.
“It sets a bad precedent to get the money and not use it,” said TTD Boardmember Ron McIntyre.
All of the board members agreed that they must stop the bleeding before going any further. While there wasn’t much of a public audience, Steve Teshara probably best summed up the day’s events.
“You are building on quicksand for projects with money that you may not have,” he said. “There are too many uncertainties.”
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