CRESTVIEW — The Crestview City Council, in what some officials fear is a precedent-setting move, has unanimously agreed to fund half the cost of continuing to operate county bus service in town.
The Board of County Commissioners had established a Nov. 4 deadline for the city to find funding for local bus routes 11 and 12, which otherwise faced elimination.
The city hopes funding will come from an increased share of county gas tax money, though city clerk Betsy Roy said the amount the city will receive won't be determined for several months.
At its Monday evening meeting, council members expressed displeasure at having to pay for a service no other city in the county is asked to support.
"We do pay county taxes and this is a county transportation system," Councilman Tom Gordon said. "That means the people of Crestview who pay county taxes pay twice. I don't like that."
In exchange for agreeing to pay upward of $48,125 to keep local routes operating, the council demanded city representation on the board of Okaloosa County Transit, a private company that operates the county bus service.
"You're here to request money from our citizens, but that bus service does not fall under any line item of the city of Crestview, so we have no oversight of that service but we're asked to sign a check," Council President Robyn Helt told OCT representatives.
OCT operations manager Barry Peterson said he would have to bring the council's request before the board.
Helt also asked transit coordinator Lani Birchett why the sales representative of Pensacola-based Transit Advertising Limited, the advertising agency that places ads on county buses, hasn't contacted Crestview area businesses.
"She's certainly not doing a job for you and she's certainly not doing a job for us," Helt said. "Not one bus has one ad."
Helt suggested the city itself could solicit ads from area businesses and contribute the 50 percent advertising fee OCT pays its ad agency directly toward route 11 and 12 operating costs.
Helt also questioned why the city couldn't apply for its own state and federal transportation grants if it's going to be an equal partner in funding its bus routes.
Birchett said transportation funding must be applied for through the regional Transportation Planning Organization, which funnels the money to OCT and other transit providers.
City planner Eric Davis, whom council members proposed as Crestview's representative on the OCT board, said that 2013-14 probably will not be the only year Crestview will have to fund county transit.
"I'm afraid every year going forward we're going to be stuck with that choice," Davis said. "But next year it won't just be us. It'll be Fort Walton and Mary Esther as well."
Birchett assured the council that "Okaloosa County Transit values Crestview's business."
"I should hope so," Councilman Mickey Rytman replied. "We're the biggest city in the county."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.