When the Morgan County Council set out four years ago researching the need for public transportation in Morgan County, Councilwoman Tina Kelley didn’t think she would find many people who needed such a service.
She was wrong.
“I was surprised to find the need in the community,” she said at Wednesday’s UTA presentation at the Mountain Green Fire Station.
With a total population of 9,469, the county has 1,402 senior citizens (14.8 percent of the population), 1,184 veterans (12.5 percent), 852 persons with disabilities (9 percent) and 483 low income (5.1 percent). Many of these county residents have specific needs for public transportation.
Statistically, these groups often have a need for transportation options, said Ali Oliver with the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
In fact, she said, typically adults cannot drive for the last 10 years of their lives.
It is a need that the Utah Transit Authority is willing to fill in a unique solution not used anywhere in the state, said UTA representative Ryan Taylor. Using what has been dubbed “hybrid community transportation,” a local transportation coordinator paid by UTA could assess the local need and arrange a community shuttle to transport, for example, Grandma directly to her doctor’s office without needing a bus transfer.
The other portion of the county population that may stand to benefit from UTA services are the 2,200 county residents who commute outside the community for employment each day. That is about 23 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Economic Census in 2011.
For that segment, UTA envisions an expanded van pool to popular destinations like Salt Lake City, downtown Ogden, Weber State University, and Hill Air Force Base.
Resident Steve Rich said that the van pool option is available now to all interested Morgan residents without the necessity of passing a sales tax increase.
Taylor said UTA runs 400 van pool vehicles across the state, and a few currently in Morgan.
Other counties have increased taxes in order to annex into UTA and claim transportation services. For example, Box Elder, Davis, Utah and Weber counties pay .55 of a cent for every sales tax dollar. That would mean that for every $100 of sales tax collected, 55 cents would go to fund transportation in that county. Tooele’s is less at 30 cents and Salt Lake’s is more at 68.75 cents.
Morgan is considering placing the matter on the ballot, either at .25 of a cent to fund UTA transportation options, or .50 of a cent that would include the first .25 going to UTA and an additional .25 going to fund road maintenance/construction.
Councilman Lyle Nelson said the county’s roads are in such a shape that typical state and federal road funds aren’t keeping up. An additional funding source is desperately needed, and this could be the answer.
It is a less expensive way of meeting a public need than is the county creating a new transportation department, Kelley said. Passing a .25 percent tax increase could generate $223,843 while the .50 percent increase would mean $447,843.
The Morgan County Council is collecting public input before formally requesting annexation into UTA. Even if UTA accepts the request, the sales tax increase would be on the November ballot for voters to weigh in on. The council has a Sept. 1 deadline to decide whether or not to place the matter on the ballot.
If it does go on the ballot, Nelson said it would be clear exactly what the collected money would be spent on.
Residents attending the presentation noted that to use the commuter van service, riders would have to pay a fare on top of the sales tax increase. However, the community shuttle fare would not be required, Oliver said.
“This is just the beginning,” Nelson said. “We haven’t articulated fares and routes yet. We are a rural area with needs trying to decide the best way to meet those needs.”
“I have to give the council credit for doing their due diligence,” Taylor said. “We are here at their request.”
“I see a good discussion that needs to take place,” said Morgan County Council Chairman Logan Wilde.