By JOSH NEWTON
Tahlequah city councilors gave the go-ahead Thursday afternoon to donate $20,000 this budget year to the KiBois Area Transit System.
The decision was made in a 2-1 vote during a special council meeting. Ward 3 Councilor Maurice Turney and Ward 4 Councilor Linda Spyres voted in favor of the $20,000, while Ward 2 Councilor Jack Spears voted against the motion – only because he wanted to give KATS a larger donation.
Ward 1 Councilor Diane Weston was absent from the meeting.
The council has discussed the issue for months, but ultimately took no action on previous occasions due to several concerns. Those included a perceived lack of budget information provided by KATS officials; the desire to know what other cities donate to KATS; and the question of where the city would find the funds.
KATS Director Charla Sloan appeared before the council with Cherokee County KATS Supervisor Terri Squyres and several regular customers of the public transportation system. Sloan provided the council with requested budget information and explained the importance of the system.
Sloan said the transportation system not only provides service for routine trips to the grocery store or doctor’s office, but provides work routes and other medical routes outside of Cherokee County.
Sloan said officials from KATS and the city reached an agreement several years ago that the city would donate money to help fund the service.
Sloan said the funding is then matched with other grants. She explained the city’s participation is vital to help pull in other grant funding.
“There are a lot of people out there that need public transportation,” said Sloan.
As an example, Sloan said other municipalities donate varying amounts each year to KATS: Sallisaw gives $35,000, and Coweta gives $50,000. She said services also vary in other communities, but said Cherokee County has one of the highest volumes of calls throughout the KATS service area.
Frequent customers of KATS also spoke in favor of the service, and stressed the importance of having transportation to get to their appointments and other necessities.
Spyres explained she understands the importance of KATS and knows it is a needed service, but said she also must consider the city’s funding.
She said she spoke to Treasurer Pam Fielden and was told the city’s Operating Reserve Fund should only be used for emergencies, such as natural disasters.
She said $50,000 has also already been taken out of the $500,000 account, and said she was concerned about giving KATS $35,000.
Mayor Jason Nichols disagreed that Operating Reserve is meant only for extreme emergencies.
Before a vote was taken on Turney’s recommended $20,000 donation, Spears stressed his desire to provide the entity with $35,000, as the city did last year.
“You fulfilled a need,” Spears told Sloan. “I very strongly encourage our support of the KATS system.”
He also promised to bring a proposal before the council in the future, asking to donate more money to KATS.
“I may be a lame duck, but I’m a loud duck,” Spears said.