Proposed Cuts To Paratransit Worry Area Agency

'Dakotabilites' fear fianncial woes if forced to shoulder costs

Tuesday night, Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether presented his proposed 2017 budget to the city council. It included new staff and multi-million dollar road projects, but what it didn’t include, is worrying one area agency.

Bob Bohm with Dakotabilities in Sioux Falls has poured over the numbers. He knows his fixed budget will not allow for any wiggle room to add anymore costs – let alone an investment in disability buses.

“I don’t see any feasible way for us to take over all of those rides,” he said, “that’s just not in the cards for us.”

Dakotabilities is an area agency that helps residents in the area with disabilities. From meals to travel, Bohm and his team have seen a rise in clientele between five and six percent.

“I certainly can’t go from assisting someone with a para-transit ticket to providing the service in place of the para-transit system. That’s a non-starter. There’s no way we can do that.”

Part of Mayor Huether’s proposed 2017 budget would cut nearly $560,000 from transit services next year. Why? He says not very many people take the bus anymore, and that money could benefit a greater amount of people somewhere else. Councilman Greg Neitzert agrees.

“Transit is a huge a problem and it’s probably the biggest issue that we are going to have,” says Neitzert.

Neitzert says federal funding for public transportation has decreased nationwide over the years, so city budgets have to pick up the slack. Neitzert agrees it’s a slippery slope, but he says there has to be some give-and-take between the city and agencies like Dakotabilities.

“It’s something we take a lot of pride in, but we also have two major hospitals and so we’re a mecca for people who need medical services and so our paratransit service is consuming our budget,” he added.

According to documents provided on the city’s website, in 2012, 146,290 paratransit passengers used these services. In 2015, the number of riders dropped to 121,398. Bohm says those numbers don’t paint a full picture. He argues that the need hasn’t changed, especially as the city continues to grow.

“The mayor makes a really strong, favorable comment about the community growing by three-or- 4,000 people a year, and indeed it does,” said Bohm, “but every single year a proportion of that, just like it has been, are people who have disabilities who move to the community the same reason we do.”

Public transit makes up about two percent of the total proposed budget or about $9.2 million. In 2014, Sioux Falls City Council approved a rate increase to four dollars round trip for passengers and reduced the paratransit route.