By ANN McCREARY
A proposal to create a tax-supported public bus service in Okanogan County got approval from the Twisp Town Council last week.
The final say in whether the proposed new Okanogan County Transit Authority will be created rests with county voters, who must approve a new sales tax that would provide the funding to operate the bus system.
Local communities that would be served by the transportation system have been asked to pass a resolution endorsing the bus service and the proposed sales tax of 0.4 percent, which would equal 4 cents on a $10 taxable purchase.
Twisp Council member Clay Hill, who has represented Twisp on the board planning the new transit authority, said 0.4 percent is the minimum amount of tax that would be necessary to support a transportation system that would serve the Methow Valley. Any amount less than that, Hill said, would mean eliminating routes that serve the valley.
Under the proposed plan, the transit system would provide regular daily bus service linking Okanogan County communities, including three round trips on weekdays between Winthrop and Omak and two round trips between Winthrop and Pateros.
Planners of the transit authority hope to place it on the November ballot, if enough money is raised to cover the election costs.
Bob Lloyd, a Twisp Council member, said he thought the public transportation system might encourage Methow Valley residents to shop in Omak and Okanogan. “I can’t encourage businesses to collect and turn in 0.4 percent to provide customers a way to go to Omak and do all their shopping. I don’t see it as a benefit to the valley,” Lloyd said.
Hill said the proposed bus schedule is more conducive to working or going to school in the Okanogan Valley, rather than shopping. He said the buses would carry passengers from the Methow Valley in the morning and return in the evening.
However, Lloyd said he’d rather see greater support for the existing bus service currently provided by Okanogan County Transportation and Nutrition (OCTN), a nonprofit organization, sometimes known as the “senior bus,” supported through local and state grants.
It serves the Methow Valley three days a week, with door-to-door service used primarily by elderly and disabled passengers. The routes operated by OCTN tend to change year-to-year based on available funding from donors, according to a Transit Service Plan that describes the public transportation proposal.
Lloyd added that he often sees buses running in Wenatchee that are almost empty.
The resolution to support the public transportation proposal was passed by the council with Lloyd voting in opposition.