ELKHART — The routes of the Interurban Trolley, the public transportation system serving the Elkhart and Goshen areas, will likely be tweaked stemming from a cut in funding from Concord Township.
Officials, who announced the proposed changes at a press conference Thursday, emphasize that service will remain, though in changed form, thanks to last-minute funding injections from the cities of Elkhart and Goshen, among others. Still, the new funds don't fully make up for the lost Concord Township revenue and they left open the possibility of additional route changes in years to come if more permanent funding sources can't be secured.
The extra funding “buys us some time,” said Sandra Seanor, executive director of the Michiana Area Council of Governments, or MACOG. That's that quasi-governmental South Bend-based body that helps manage the Interurban Trolley.
Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore and Goshen Mayor Allan Kauffman, also present at Thursday's conference, expressed disappointment over last year's decision by Concord Township authorities.
“To have to significantly increase the local share is a shock,” said Kauffman, alluding to the funding injection by Goshen that resulted from the Concord Township action. He said trolley service to Goshen had been thrown into doubt because of the funding cut and that the newly configured route system maintains “bare bones” service.
The proposed changes will be subject to a public comment period, from next Monday through Feb. 29, and they'll come up for formal consideration by the MACOG Policy Board in March. If approved, they'd take effect April 2.
WHO PAYS WHAT
For his part, Concord Township Trustee Mark Grabill said earlier Thursday that the Concord Township funding cut, approved by township officials last year, was about fairness. He wasn't invited to take part in Thursday's press conference, held at Elkhart City Hall, though he attended as a spectator.
“We were spending an awful lot of money for our part and we just didn't think that was fair,” said Grabill. He was elected to the township post in 2010 and took office on Jan. 1, 2011.
Concord Township provided $264,000 in funds for the Interurban Trolley in 2010. After township officials cancelled the township's trolley contract with MACOG last year, that fell to $155,479 for 2011. Concord Township has agreed to provide $20,000 this year, Grabill said.
The budgeted city of Elkhart contribution for 2011, by contrast, was $33,700 while Goshen's share amounted to $10,600, according to Grabill. It wasn't immediately clear how much the two cities agreed to provide for 2012.
Concord Township implemented the trolley service years ago, hence the large contribution it has made in years past relative to the funding provided by Elkhart and Goshen. Grabill pegged the originally proposed Interurban Trolley budget for 2011 — funded with state and federal money as well — at $1.88 million.
Seanor said the overall 2012 budget figure is still being pinned down. In addition to the extra funding for 2012 from the cities of Elkhart and Goshen, officials in Cleveland, Osolo and Elkhart townships have also agreed to help out.
Per the proposed changes outlined Thursday, the trolley routes would chiefly be changed in and around the city of Elkhart. Frequency of service would also be impacted.
As MACOG officials reworked the proposed routes and schedules, Goshen and Elkhart officials asked that service for working people and the elderly be maintained or improved, when possible. They also sought improved service to the new Ivy Tech Community College campus at C.R. 18 and Old C.R. 17.
Grabill, meanwhile, questioned whether the Elkhart and Goshen areas need as extensive trolley service as is currently provided.
“It is needed,” he said. “But I don't think it's quite necessary at the level that it's at.”
Proposed routes for the Interurban Trolley
Existing routes for the Interurban Trolley