MTR Western, the agency Columbia County has contracted to provide buses for CC Rider, has informed the county transit service it wants to raise its hourly increase, but different people have provided different figures for what that increase should be.
According to Karen Kane, Public Affairs Coordinator for Columbia County, Jeremy Butzlaff, President of MTR Western gave $8 to $10 an hour increases as the desired figure, while the Nicholas Carlstrom, Director of Finance for MTR Western gave a figure of $4 an hour increase. The figures were not given in an official notice but were part of a conversation that Transit Administrator Todd Wood had had with MTR Western officials on Wednesday, Aug. 7.
Kane also wanted to correct some misinformation that the agency threatened to pull their contract, saying the agency did not do so.
The reasoning behind the increase for the company is down to rising insurance rates, according to Kane. The company had informed CC Rider in June that their insurance rates were going to go up, but they never made a formal request for a rate increase.
“We’ve gotten conflicting information, so we’re going to wait until we’ve gotten something from them that explains the rate,” Kane said.
Aside from the conflicting information, the rate itself does not add up for CC Rider staff.
John Dreeszen, CC Rider Transit Coordinator did his own calculations on the rate increase, and his figures did not yield an $8 to $10 increase.
“I think the question goes back to MTR, how did they do their calculations,” Kane said. “Two months into your contract, your insurance rates go up? It’s odd. I’m not saying they’re not honest, I’m just saying, what are they looking at?”
The increase request comes four months after the Columbia County Board of Commissioners approved a new contract with the agency on April 15 of this year, which was a wage increase from $40 to $58 an hour.
That new contract came after MTR Western had said in the fall of 2018 that they were going to need more funding. Before that time, in the three years the company has been contracted for CC Rider, they had never renegotiated a contract.
The reason CC Rider contracts out for drivers rather than hiring in-house is because of overall savings. According to Kane, CC Rider staff compared the cost of having in-house drivers rather than contracted drivers before hiring MTR Western as the contracted agency. A lot of the cost savings is the PERS cost, which the county would not have to pay with a contracted agency like MTR Western.
“That’s still the case until we find out what they’re asking of us, and why,” Kane said.
Before the county knows of an exact cost increase, CC Rider staff will not know if they can meet the increase, according to Kane.
“It may be possible to meet an increase, but we don’t know how much they’re asking us,” Kane said.
CC Rider has been struggling financially for a while, making massive cuts to the service in February of this year in order to close the gap between revenue and expenses. As The Chronicle has previously reported, a large part of the financing gap stems from the fact that the service runs primarily on grants, rather than on a stable base of funding, such as a service district. There will be a measure on the November ballot to form a transit district for the service.
Kane said the cuts made in February were the bare minimum the transit service could sustain, and that they will have to cut even more if the November ballot measure does not pass.
“This additional cost is yet more on top of that,” Kane said.
Columbia County officials do not know when they will hear of a definite cost increase from MTR Western.
Staff representatives from MTR Western had not responded to requests for more information from The Chronicle before press time.