Future of handibus on a slippery slope

With a $13,345 budget shortfall projected for 2013, the Stettler and District Handibus Society is worried about potential service cuts

Mounting financial losses concern the Stettler and District Handibus Society

With a $13,345 budget shortfall projected for 2013, the Stettler and District Handibus Society is worried about potential service cuts within a few years.

“If we keep this trend going, we foresee that we will deplete our reserve funds in about three years and we will not be able to continue our service,” said society treasurer Cindy MacDonell, who addressed the Town of Stettler council last week. The society has asked the town to assist with the shortfall.

“We’ll also go back to the service clubs for further fundraising,” MacDonell said.

For this year, the society has requested $15,790 from the town, $16,764 from the County of Stettler, along with $12,000 from Superfl uity and $8,000 from the Alberta Community Spirit Fund.

Town council has urged the society to take steps to increase riders on a bus that council members said provides a valuable service.

“This is a service that is valuable to the community,” said Mayor Dick Richards.

“It’s a very valuable service to have,” said Coun. Leona Thorogood. MacDonell agreed to survey how many people who might need the service don’t currently use it. She will try to find out the reasons for that and determine ways to encourage them to ride.

“We offer new riders their first ride for free,” MacDonell said. The society has prepaid tickets that offer rides for the price of 10. Board members decided not to increase the current rate of $5 per trip, as they believe that move would hurt riders, with many on low or fixed incomes.

From 30 to 35 passengers is the maximum capacity per day, given the time constraints required to help clients with mobility issues or who are in wheelchairs, said program co-ordinator Joanne Wiechnik, who responded to a question from council.

“Some days, we have 10, 17, and some days we may have 30 or more,” she said. Those numbers can fluctuate greatly, depending on numerous factors, including weather, illness in lodges, activities in town or the time of month — such as when seniors receive their pension cheques and are doing their banking.

The society finalized its budget, with $113,274 in expenses and a funding shortfall of $13,345.

“We have carefully reviewed all aspects of our budget for 2013 and pared it down as far as we feel we can go, while still trying to retain realistic goals,” MacDonell said. The deficit is projected to be higher as a result of fluctuating fuel and maintenance costs and reduced numbers of passengers. Along with disabled adults and seniors, the handibus transports special-needs students to a swimming program and also provides school activity-related transportation.

“With this service, a majority of these groups might not be able to live here in Stettler, as the need of transportation is essential for work, school and medical needs, and overall provides all our passengers with a better quality of life,” MacDonell said. She also reported that the society has raised funds to buy a new bus to replace the current handibus, which was bought in 2008.

“If we do not replace our bus regularly, we have found the cost of repairs starts to put a huge strain on our budget,” she said. The representatives said the new handibus is slated to arrive this June.

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