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Senior Center president concerned about new service

Monday, June 5, 2006

Officials of a local civic organization are concerned a proposed public transit system in Clay County may conflict with a service they already provide.

C.A.R.S. (Child Adult Resource Services), the non-profit agency intent on starting a small-scale public transportation system in the county, recently received a green light from county officials to begin applying for grants. Targeted at the elderly and disabled, the service would provide transportation to and from medical appointments and schedule regular runs to shopping centers and other points of interest, according to a C.A.R.S. representative.

But to Joe Wilson, president of the board of the Clay County Senior Center, the proposed service sounds a little too familiar. Wilson said the senior center already offers a grant-funded program that transports area seniors to doctor visits, pharmacies and just about anywhere else.

Wilson said he is concerned the fee-based C.A.R.S. program will compete with the senior center's service, both for ridership and grant money.

"I'm not against anything that helps the older people, but my concern is that they're duplicating a lot of the work we do down there for free," he said.

C.A.R.S. Transportation Director Jon Bonomo said the proposed transit program is not a threat to the service provided by the senior center.

"They have concerns that this would jeopardize their funding and could affect the need for their services," he said. "I think we need to sit down with them, explain the program and dispel these misconceptions."

Bonomo added that the C.A.R.S. program, to be funded by state grant money and contributions from the county and the City of Brazil, had only been approved by the commissioners for a one-year trial.

"If the service does not show merit or if it affects anyone in the community in a negative way, then it should be scrutinized," he said.

Bonomo has said studies reveal a distinct demand for public transportation in Clay County, but Wilson has doubts that the community could support two transit services.

"We advertise in the paper every day, and we're not that busy," he said.

Bonomo said his research indicates otherwise-- C.A.R.S. singled out Clay County because of a strong demand for transportation among the elderly and disabled, he said-- especially to and from doctor or hospital visits.

The county's lean economy also played a role in its selection. A C.A.R.S. study conducted in 2002 reported 83 percent of people surveyed knew of someone with transportation problems. Of those, 46 percent were unable to get around because of the expense involved.

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