City to seek state help paying for Sun Van disabled service

2013-11-07T00:00:00Z City to seek state help paying for Sun Van disabled serviceBy Darren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Disabled riders on the city’s Sun Van service are closer to catching a break on fares, while at the same time putting more money into city coffers.

The City Council unanimously approved applying to a state program that would reimburse the city up to $18 for a round trip on Sun Van.

Earlier this year, the city considered raising Sun Van fares from $1 per trip to $3 to cover some of the disparity between fares and what it actually costs to provide each ride.

But after a parade of Sun Van’s riders described how the increases would harm them, the council nixed the idea.

Although riders were spared the increase, the city still had to find a way to mitigate the $16 million-a-year the cost of the service. Sun Van only recovers about 5 percent of its cost in fares.

State Rep. Ethan Orr and City Councilman Paul Cunningham broached the idea of applying to the reimbursement program offered by the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Cunningham said the move would enable the city to avoid passing “severe cost increases” on to some of Tucson’s most vulnerable population, and help the city deficit.

Under the program, the city would receive $9 for each one-way trip for a qualified rider. Riders wouldn’t have to pay any fare, since the cost is included in the state reimbursement.

To qualify, Sun Van drivers would need first-aid training, a fingerprint clearance card and a few other things.

The current union contract with drivers doesn’t stipulate first-aid training and would need to be worked out, said Kate Riley, the general manager for Sun Tran and Sun Van.

She said preliminary talks with the union have been positive.

The city’s preliminary numbers show the initial cost of training its approximately 200 full- and part-time drivers would be around $190,000.

It also estimated the city would reap about $250,000 a year from the program — somewhat less than Orr’s prediction that the program could net the city between $1.5 million and $2 million a year.

Riley said the city’s estimates are conservative because it still doesn’t know how many of Sun Van’s riders qualify for state coverage.

Mayor Jonathan Roths-child is confident the program will benefit the city, and he encouraged staff members from every department to look into what other state money is out there for the taking.

“We need to run our hand through the couch and see what’s there,” Rothschild said.

Forty Niner

The council voted unanimously to take legal action, if necessary, against the Forty Niner Country Club golf course to prevent it from opening wells to water its course.

In 2003, the former company that owned the course struck a deal with the city for reclaimed water.

Over the next three years, the city spent $6 million building a pipeline to the course so it could use reclaimed water for irrigation.

In exchange, the company agreed to stop pumping groundwater and pay about $1 million.

Recently, the golf course’s new owner, Ron McKenzie, expressed an interest in running a well test.

But critics say a resuming a well at the course would deplete the city’s water supply and harm the surrounding vegetation.

Cunningham said the city must enforce its contracts, especially when it applies to water.

“We bailed them out of a tight spot 10 years ago; now they want to abandon that agreement,” Cunningham said.

City golf

The council authorized the staff to negotiate with the finalists to run the city’s golf courses.

Last year the city solicited proposals from private companies willing to manage the city’s golf courses, before deciding whether to close Fred Enke and transform El Rio golf courses. Fifteen companies made proposals earlier this year. City officials refused to say how many finalists are still in play.

Stipulations on the talks include not selling any courses and creating a citizens panel. But officials say confidentiality rules prevent them from saying anything about the finalists or what they were offering.

Neighborhood ordinance

Tucsonans now have some new rules to follow when it comes to being good neighbors.

The council voted unanimously to amend the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance to make it easier to fine residents who hold more than four yard sales in a year, fail to maintain the outside of their homes and more.

Most of the rules have been enforced for years, but were never a part of any official ordinance.

The previous “legal precedence” for enforcing the rules was a letter written in the 1990s by a former building official, which judges have been reluctant to uphold when enforcement has been challenged in court.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@azstarnet.com. Follow on Twitter @DarrenDaRonco

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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