Despite game opposition from a man making his third appearance in their office, the Valley County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a rate increase proposed by Valley County Transit, the first since 1997.
Harry Ratzky is a low-income senior citizen who objects to the increases that eliminated reduced fares for seniors and children. He also claims that the increase is not in compliance with the Federal Transit Administration’s public notice and comment procedures. He said his first knowledge of the increase was an announcement of it in the Courier on May 29. Since he had no chance to comment on the increase, the procedure is flawed, he said.
He first appeared before the commissioners on June 18. The commissioners took the matter under advisement and postponed the effective date of July 1 for the increase. The new effective date was not announced yesterday.
“The public expects transparency in governance. This is bordering on sleight of hand,” Ratzky said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Valley County Attorney Nick Murnion attended the commissioners’ meeting to comment on this issue. He said there is no statute on this and no formal legal notice is required for the Transit Board to make a rate change. Murnion and Commissioner Dave Pippin said they had consulted Tom Stuber, the northern regional planner for transit grants and funding with the Montana Department of Transportation, and he stated that adequate public notice existed here.
The Transit Board sent emails to The Courier, KLTZ and other media announcing a meeting on Feb. 14 with items to discuss including fare restructure. This information ran in The Courier’s community calendar for two weeks before the meeting.
“It looks to me like we went beyond the public requirements for notice,” Murnion said.
Ratzky had copies of a legal notice by the Transit Board that only mentioned that they were applying for two grants. He argued that the legal mentioned nothing about changing the fares. Murnion said the notice was for a separate purpose and again pointed out the community calendar.
“I’m not required to read everything in the paper,” Ratzky responded.
All rides will now cost $1. The fare for seniors and children was 75 cents. Regular monthly passes will increase from $35 to $40, while passes for seniors and children will rise from $25 to $40.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Ratzky appeared to concentrate his complaint on the issue of public notice and not the increase in senior fares. This is disparate treatment of seniors and children, he told the commissioners on June 18.
Murnion said that only transit systems in communities with a population of 50,000 or greater have to give a senior discount.