WENATCHEE — Link Transit’s board of directors approved a $19.3 million operating budget for this year to cover plans for expanded service on weekdays and weekends, including new Sunday service.
That’s up from $15.6 million for last year’s operating budget.
Voters in August passed a 0.2% local sales tax increase that will go toward the expansion. It’ll be phased in, with a 0.1% increase this year and another 0.1% increase beginning in January 2022.
Link General Manager Richard DeRock told the Wenatchee City Council Jan. 9 that’s expected to bring in about $3.56 million per year — or more if the economy continues going strong.
The board approved the 2020 budget in a packed room Tuesday. Several people who campaigned for the tax increase spoke out in support of passing the budget.
Leavenworth resident Linda Kelly said she volunteered on the campaign and occasionally rides the bus. Many workers in industries like agriculture and tourism rely on public transit, she said.
“Link expansion gives people like these, as well as others who may not be able to drive due to physical limitations, more options to work jobs and fill business needs in this era of historically low unemployment,” she said. “Thus, our key industries and business owners are supported through Link’s expanded service. Furthermore, living in Leavenworth, any options to better move tourists during the busy seasons is welcome, as the traffic issue can become critical on holiday weekends.”
Expanded service would begin in July. Most of the plan is the same as what was presented at the Jan. 9 council meeting, with some changes:
Additional service on Saturdays
- Wenatchee, 34 trips
- Cashmere, one trip
New service on Sundays
- Wenatchee, 24 trips
- Wenatchee/East Wenatchee, 24 trips
- Leavenworth shuttle, 10 hours
Link estimates the expansion would require 13 additional coach operations, four operations support employees, three maintenance workers, a human resources aide, a planning services manager and a planning assistant.
Some audience members expressed concern that the board might forego expansion, despite the fact that the tax increase received 55.66% approval in Chelan and Douglas counties combined.
“As a board member, it is our responsibility to ensure that the organization is sufficiently using the funds given them by the taxpayers,” said Board Chair Randy Agnew, Rock Island’s mayor. “I don’t think the board had any intention of saying, ‘Let’s not do the expansion,’ but we are not intimately familiar with the day-to-day operations. We basically, in my opinion, needed more understanding and explanation of why we’re suddenly doubling staff before we go through with it.”
Jac Cates, of Wenatchee, was one of a couple of people to oppose the expansion at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he lives in the middle of three routes.
“Literally one foot from my house, there’s a bus stop,” he said. “I decided to do a little study, so I got up on Dec. 26 — figured people would be riding the bus, returning gifts — (and saw) 33 buses, four passengers. Two weeks ago Tuesday, I did the same thing and there was 36 buses, 11 passengers.”
Link is looking to hire a consultant to evaluate its current fixed-route service and develop options for future service plans.