Sunday, September 24, 2023

WAVE board exploring property tax increase to subsidize public transportation

After struggling to fill funding gaps for years, Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority's newly restructured board is considering property and vehicle tax increases. (Port City Daily photo/File)
After struggling to fill funding gaps for years, Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority’s newly restructured board is considering property and vehicle tax increases. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON – The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (WAVE) board is exploring several funding models including a county and city vehicle fee and an increase in property tax to help subsidize the county’s transit system.

Mayor Bill Saffo and New Hanover County Board of Commissioners Chair Julia Olson-Boseman announced in early January that WAVE would be restructured with an eye toward financial stability and ways to close a $1.2 million budget deficit.

Related: WAVE route rehaul decision splits county, city officials

A nine-member board made up of county, city and Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization personnel was appointed to lead the transit authority and contracted with TransPro to do a cost-savings analysis and redesign the network.

At its Nov. 19 meeting, the board discussed different dedicated revenue proposals. The board’s financial committee shared a spreadsheet with board members with several options including a $7 county and $5 city motor vehicle fee and a quarter cent increase in property tax, according to a spreadsheet provided to board members.

“Board members were tasked with doing financial analysis on eight different scenarios with possible funding avenues,” said Vanessa Lacer, the authority’s mobility manager. “Some are not fully fleshed out. It is really just possibilities to set a direction and work toward.”

The board will have to combine one or more fees or tax increases to close the deficit, according to the spreadsheet. Lacer said the $5 city fee and quarter cent proposed tax hike are not done deals. They are possibilities, she said, adding that this was a “high level” presentation and meant to provide all the options to board members.

“They all get on the same page,” Lacer said. “Look at the intricacies of how all these fees could be implemented.”

In addition to new fees and taxes, the TransPro recommendation cited several cost-savings moves — ranging from possible staff cuts, by sharing “similar functions” with the city, county and MPO, to renting out unused office space. It did not identify a dedicated funding source. 

The proposal comes after the board accepted TransPro’s proposal to improve operations by decreasing systemwide service by 32% and reducing the number of fixed bus routes. WAVE is targeting July 1, 2021 for implementation of the fixed-route changes, giving staff five months to stud the feasibility and solicit community input via a mandated 90-day comment period. 

WAVE has been in turmoil in the last few months as the new board took over and former director Albert Eby left in July. Eby and the board parted after failing to come to terms on a new contract. Eby led WAVE since its formation in 2004. 

But Lacer said WAVE staff is energized by recent developments, including the hiring of a new director.

“The majority of our staff are doers,” Lacer said. “When a plan has been approved we can run with that. Having a director coming onboard in a couple of weeks helps a great deal too.”

After a nationwide search, the board announced earlier this month the hiring of Marie Parker as Wave Transit’s next executive director. Parker managed GoRaleigh’s fixed routes and has more than a decade of transportation management experience. 

Parker starts Dec. 7, 2020.

“We’re excited to meet Parker and work with her,” Lacer said. “We’re hoping to move forward in a positive way.”

View a copy of the spreadsheet below, which shows options the board is considering in order to cover the funding gap:

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