Northeast Oregon Public Transit has started to hold a series of meetings to ask the public what they would like out of their transit system.
Through a new Oregon payroll tax, which takes .001 percent of a person’s earnings, the local transit system is looking to get more than $600,000 over a three-year period. NEOPT Manager Angie Peters wants those who use the system to weigh in on what they think would be the most beneficial use of these funds.
On Tuesday night in La Grande, Peters told The Observer that the first disbursement of the new payroll tax will be in April 2019. The tax, which also will help fund road maintenance, will total $122,000 locally for that initial year. The second year NEOPT expects to receive $290,000, and $339,000 the third year.
Peters said 90 percent of the taxes collected must be given back to the community it came from. A year’s worth of taxes will be about what it would cost to buy one pizza, but Peters said to some lower income families, who utilize the public transit system the most, that amount of money could really hurt them. This tax is also meant to mitigate some of the money they will lose through this new expenditure.
There are some regulations on how local transits like Union County’s spend the money, she said. The funding must be spent to expand or enhance services. It can increase the frequency of the routes or add to routes provided.
One percent of the money also must go toward benefiting students in high school — whether that be offering discounts for rides or having a route go past the high school.
Peters said the enhancements must help those who will be affected by this change the most, including lower-income workers who will be impacted by the additional payroll deduction.
Peters went to Tuesday’s meeting, which was not attended by anyone from the community, with a list of proposals for consideration.
Likely the major proposal of Peters’, which may have the biggest impact on the community and on NEOPT is providing the fixed and paratransit routes for free to the public.
She said based on the number of riders NEOPT now has, offering free public transportation would cost approximately $22,000, which would be covered by the payroll tax money. The proposed changes still allow the transit organization some wiggle room to add more to the program. That’s why participation from the community is vital.
In addition, she told The Observer she’d like to split NEOPT’s fixed route. Right now, she said, it takes an hour to go through the entire transit route. She suggested splitting the current fixed route into two 30-minute routes. Two drivers would be working and the buses would run Monday through Friday, as they do now.
See more in Wednesday's edition of The Observer.