By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
Stettler town council voiced their support for an important local transportation resource during their regular council meeting Nov. 20. All councilors were present for the meeting.
The Stettler Handi-Bus, represented by Cindy MacDonell and Judy McKnight, wanted to discuss their operations and budget with town council.
The ladies noted the handi-bus is looking at a bigger deficit this year and were requesting more money from the town. The service is funded through grants from the town, County of Stettler and the Superfluity second-hand store.
They also noted of the two vehicles the service uses, a van and a min-bus, one of the vehicles is being repaired regularly and probably needs to be replaced soon.
Councilor Al Campbell asked about mileage on the unit in question, and the ladies responded it has well over 100,000. It was stated a new mini-bus will probably cost about $65,000.
Councilor Wayne Smith asked if user fees can be increased to cover budget issues. The ladies answered a trip now, one-way, is $5, and most of the handi-bus passengers are seniors or handicapped who have limited resources. They noted some passengers already have trouble paying the $5 fee.
Smith noted that during the October election campaign he was told that the $5 fee was too high.
Councilors saw some numbers supplied by the ladies. In 2017, the handi-bus has had 5,202 total trips to the end of October. It was noted during discussion that some passengers who are handicapped can’t use a taxi, for example, as their wheelchair, walker or other medical equipment can cause an issue with a standard vehicle.
Councilor Scott Pfeiffer said he sees the handi-bus as a vital service to people likes and the handicapped in Stettler.
The handi-bus budget showed that the service would likely be about $27,000 in the red this year. Campbell asked what the handi-bus would like the town to do.
The ladies responded funding options are limited, as there is no provincial grant for handi-bus service. As well, paid drivers are required to ensure reliability and the organization doesn’t have the volunteer base to raise funds.
Campbell noted the handi-bus is an important service that relies on local support. “This isn’t just their problem,” said Campbell. “Boy, it’s ours.”
Smith suggested simple fundraising like sponsorships to cover the shortfall. “This town is typically very generous,” said Smith.
The ladies also stated they probably needed to raise public awareness about the handi-bus, it’s importance and it’s budget.
Councilor Gord Lawlor noted the handi-bus could reach out to the families whose members use the service.
Town council voted unanimously to increase the town’s contribution from $20,000 to $25,000 and to also include the service in annual budget deliberations.
Mayor Sean Nolls stated the council understands the importance of the handi-bus. “We really appreciate everything you guys do,” said Nolls.