It's unlikely that the city's public transportation system will receive the $248,000 supporters are requesting in next year's budget.
A split on the Lawrence City Commission about the need for a mass-transit system didn't lessen any during a budget review session Wednesday.
At the city's annual goals-setting session last week, two commissioners ranked public transportation as priority No. 1. But the other three commissioners didn't even put the issue on their lists.
At Wednesday's budget review session, commissioners continued to disagree about whether Lawrence needed a mass transit system.
For now, City Manager Mike Wildgen has recommended a 5 percent budget increase for the city's on-call transportation system, which operates in conjunction with Douglas County Senior Services and Independence, Inc. to provide rides to disabled, elderly and low-income residents.
The increase -- from $163,000 to $171,150 -- is nowhere near the $248, 510 the service had requested to help pay for a full-time dispatcher and a new mini-bus.
But for Commissioner Allen Levine, disagreements about funding for the on-call system are dwarfed by the need for an altogether new transportation system.
"I don't know how many years in a row the city commission is going to ignore what the people want on this," Levine said after the session.
During the session, Levine said federal dollars were available to get such a system started.
"We're always asking for federal highway dollars, but we never ask for federal dollars that might alleviate the need for a highway project," he said.
Commissioner Jo Andersen also supports taking advantage of federal funds for a public transportation system.
But Mayor Bob Moody and Commissioners John Nalbandian and Bonnie Augustine remain opposed. The reason: cost.
"I'm not ready to put millions of dollars into a mass-transit system," Moody said this morning. "As a general rule, I don't think it will be utilized."
But Cliff Blair, coordinator for the city's on-call system, says he sees the need for mass-transit system every day. The on-call system serves about 40 people a day, most of who are disabled, elderly or low-income and thus eligible for $1 shuttles to their destinations. Others must pay $5.
"There are people who need our transportation for their livelihood, as opposed to people who need incidental transportation for when their car breaks down," he said.
The on-call system is at capacity, Blair said.
"We're turning down people every day," he said. "How many times are you going to call and get turned down before you stop calling?"
Blair counts himself as a supporter of a mass-transit system.
"From what I see on a daily basis, I'm probably the biggest supporter," he said. "But I also understand how costly it can be."