Taxpayers could save $265,000 by consolidating two transportation agencies in southwestern Idaho, but only one elected official supported the idea at a recent meeting of the Valley Regional Transportation Board.
Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman cast the lone vote to pursue consolidation with the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho.
But she has some key allies in the quest for consolidation - specifically, the agency directors. They have recommended consolidation as a way to bring about more efficiency within the transportation agencies, which have some common goals and overlapping functions. COMPASS Executive Director Matt Stoll estimates that $265,000 could be saved through staff reductions, consolidating office space, merging day-to-day operations and combining legal and technical services.
"That's a conservative estimate," he said. "We think more savings can occur in time."
A savings of $265,000 may not a huge amount in the context of a combined $27 million budget for both agencies. "But that's still a lot of money," Ullman said. "During these times, we need to look at doing things differently."
The agencies have different functions. COMPASS is planning agency that assesses regional needs and has access to state and federal funds. VRT works to provide "specific regional transportation services consistent with our resources." VRT runs bus services in Ada and Canyon counties. Stoll says that although have some common goals, there is concern that the separate missions would be compromised through consolidation.
"There are concerns about how the board would be structured, but I think those things could be worked out," Ullman said. "People don't like change, that's what it comes down to."
One welcome change for Ullman, and other elected officials who serve on both boards, is there would be fewer meetings. The consolidation proposal calls for 19 board members - down from the 35 who serve on COMPASS and 28 who sit on the VRT board. Ada County, for instance, would not have greater board representation than others because of population. Ullman says a board that is weighted according to population seldom comes into play on policy decisions.
"I think I've only seen it once," she said.
Stoll expects the COMPASS board to concur with the action taken by the VRT board, which means that the idea for consolidation will be put aside for now. In the meantime, the agencies will explore, such as housing both agencies in one building and sharing of some services.
"We don't spend staff time pursuing consolidation if both boards reject it," he said. "But there are other things we can do to move us in that direction."
Chuck Malloy is a Special Projects Writer with the Idaho Freedom Foundation.