AUBURN — Craig Zurhorst, the community relations director of Western Maine Transportation Services, insisted that he wasn’t trying to tug at heartstrings Wednesday evening when he described his favorite story about one of his customers.
Zurhorst’s agency, which offers on-demand bus service throughout Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties, was the sole means for a husband to leave home and visit his wife at a local nursing facility.
“The service we provide is open to the public,” Zurhorst said. ‘We’re seeing an increase in requests for rides.”
The Androscoggin County Budget Committee was sympathetic to his plea, but just like the county commissioners did last month, the board voted to not fund the transportation service.
Already receiving funds from Franklin and Oxford counties, WMTS was hoping Androscoggin County would step in and agree to allocate $42,500 to help offset the services the agency was providing in the county.
In the past year WMTS had provided 86,902 trips to residents from Androscoggin County totaling more than 325,000 miles, Zurhorst said.
Based on the requested funding, that equals less than 50 cents per ride.
Five towns — Durham, Leeds, Livermore, Turner and Wales — already provide some form of funding. And WMTS has contracted with Auburn, Lewiston and Lisbon to provide service. The agency runs the fixed-route Citylink bus service throughout the Twin Cities and runs a commuter line from Lisbon to Lewiston five times a day.
WMTS also provides the Twin Cities with demand-response service through the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The above 86,902 trips in the county do not include riders on Citylink, ADA or the Lisbon Connector.
But six communities — Greene, Livermore Falls, Mechanic Falls, Minot, Poland and Sabattus — have said no or simply not responded to funding requests. Despite that, residents from those six towns received a combined 1,575 trips in the past year, according to Zurhorst.
While it can be a challenge at times, the agency does its best to schedule rides for everyone throughout the county.
“It is rare that we can’t offer an option,” Zurhorst said.
A motion to provide $22,000 in funding was defeated, 4-8.
The defeat does not mean WMTS will end its service in the county, but Zurhorst stressed that without funding and the ability to draw down available federal matching funds, services may have to be cut back.
Several members of the committee encouraged Zurhorst to approach their individual municipalities and make a similar request for funding.
In other business, the Budget Committee reviewed the budgets from five more county departments, leaving most intact except the account for insurance, where $20,000 was cut from workers’ compensation.
Next week’s budget review will be a challenge for the Budget Committee. Departments scheduled for review include the Sheriff’s Department, Civil Process, Communications and the county jail. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 6 p.m. at the County Courthouse.