FALLS CITY — Funding supporting Falls City Direct Connect, a free bus that provides rides from Falls City to Dallas and Monmouth and back, is in danger after a grant for operations was rejected.
Cherriots, the Salem-area public transportation agency, oversees the grants.
Two grants were submitted on behalf of the service: one to replace the 15-year old van ($62,800) and another for operations ($176,920). Both requests were “scaled” down to $58,300 and $107,240, respectively.
The application for vehicle replacement didn’t meet qualifications. But on Feb. 6 the Special Transportation Funding grant for operations was recommended by the program’s Technical Advisory Committee to be funded at $51,282 over two years, said Jesica Madronal, the Polk County community engagement coordinator in a recap of the meetings.
“Though this was less than half of our scaled request, we were thrilled and grateful because we knew that we could – at least—continue our existing transportation program in Falls City,” Madronal wrote.
Falls City Mayor Jeremy Gordon said he and Polk County officials met with Cherriots to assure that Falls City’s request was in line with the intent of STF funds “to help bolster transportation options for people with disabilities and seniors.”
Gordon said in the grant writing process, he learned that 30 percent of residents of Falls City have a disability and the city has a higher than average senior population.
He said 50 percent of direct connect riders use the service to go to grocery stores, medical appointments and job services.
“In other words, Falls City is the ideal location for the intent of these dollars,” Gordon said at the March 14 Falls City City Council meeting.
However, six days later, Madronal said Allan Pollock, Cherriots CEO and general manager, recommended the money going to Falls City’s program be diverted to existing Salem-Keizer Transit operations.
Gordon said after he and others testified on behalf of the service at the Cherriots Board of Directors meeting, the vote on funding was delayed and the recommendation was sent back to TAC to review.
Gordon said that review didn’t result in a change of the recommendation, and he plans to attend and testify at the Cherriots board meeting on March 28.
“It is clear to me that the Cherriots CEO subverted the committee process … and did everything he could to make sure the Falls City Direct Connect would receive no funding,” Gordon said.
He said the program has the Polk County Board of Commissioners’ permission to appeal the board’s decision to the Oregon Department of Transportation if it approves the TAC recommendation on March 28.