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December 12, 2019

10/29/2019 7:30:00 AM
Oneida Vilas Transit Commission to pursue new facility
Panel also moves forward with new bus order
Kayla Houp
Of The Lakeland Times

Northwoods Transit Connections could find itself in a new location come December after the Oneida Vilas Transit Commission voted Friday to pursue a property in Eagle River to house the transit service.

The commission, which oversees the transit service, discussed two new facility options as part of its most recent attempt to secure a new location that not only accommodates the Northwoods Transit Connection fleet of buses but also provides sufficient meeting and office space.

The first property considered was a facility with 900 square feet of office space and 2,500 square feet of garage space off of State Highway 17 in Rhinelander.

Transit manager Roger Youngren stated that though the Hwy. 17 property was a "nice facility" that would meet the commission's needs, the building had unreliable internet. In order to get reliable internet, a line would have to be run from the street into the building.

"I was hoping to have that cost before today's meeting, but the realtor has not been able to provide it yet," Youngren said.

In the meantime, Youngren visited a facility in Eagle River that has more office and garage space, but is also more expensive.

Youngren said he has been negotiating with the facility in Eagle River and, rather than giving a 10% discount, a $10,000 donation would be given toward the $455,000 purchase price.

An additional $6,000 toward a donation would be given should the Commission receive grant money from the Department of Transportation.

"So, if you take the $455,000 that they're offering, less the $16,000 that we'd have to come up with in a match to get that 10%, the difference in price is only $5,000 between the two buildings," Youngren said.

In comparing the two sites, committee member Chuck Hayes said it appeared as though the Eagle River site was not only larger with reliable internet, but also used natural gas for heat and had more professional value.

"In other words, they come out ahead," he said.

Youngren said he was curious about how many months the commission would have to budget for the lease in 2020, versus when they'd actually purchase the property, and had spoken to the individual heading up the grant opportunity for the state.

"He said he thought the awards would be announced in February, and the money would be released, perhaps as soon as the end of May, if not the end of June," Youngren said.



Getting in sooner

Another benefit to the Eagle River property would be how soon the commission could move into the space.

With the Hwy. 17 property, Youngren said the Commission would not be able to get into the facility this winter, whereas the Eagle River facility would be available Dec. 1.

"And if we entered into a lease agreement, the purchase would be obviously contingent on us receiving the grant monies from the DOT," Youngren said.

Since several drivers work out of Rhinelander, Youngren said it would make more sense to store some of the buses in Rhinelander and rotate them with buses housed in Eagle River.

"Obviously, we'd park as many buses as we possibly could in the new facility, but we'd have three buses here," Youngren explained, stating that the buses would be rotated on a maintenance schedule that would allow all of the buses, at some point, to be garaged.

Youngren explained the commission would build the first six month's rent for the facility into its 2020 budget, and that all of the commission's buses could fit into the new facility's garage, including the additional buses the Commission was looking into pursuing.

"It's always been my goal to get the buses inside, this is an opportunity," Youngren said.

Should the Commission get the grant from the DOT, it would still have to come up with $29,500.

"Can we do that, in the budget?" Hayes asked.

"It's got to come from our local share, is my understanding," commission member Steven Schreier said.

Some concern was raised on what would happen if the Commission moved into the new facility, but didn't get the grant from the DOT.

"Worse case scenario, we didn't get the grant, we'd have to relocate again," Youngren said.

"The only question I have is, this is all connected. The $29,500, if we would get the grant, we would have to have that money ready to accept the grant, and if we didn't have it, then we can't take it because we don't have our part for the grant," commission vice chair Bob Mott said.

Mott expressed some concern, stating that in the past it had been possible to raise money for buses at $15,000 per bus, but that he wasn't sure people would be as generous with the new facility.

Mott assured that even if the organization moved facilities, the level of service wouldn't change.

"We've been looking for this for a long time. It's absolutely needed, there's no question about it," Mott said, adding that commission members could always tour the building and pull out of the process if needed.

After some discussion, the commission voted unanimously to authorize Youngren to write the grant and pursue the Eagle River property.



New bus order

The commission also approved a motion to move forward with procuring an additional four buses to add to the NTC's fleet.

Youngren said he received all the necessary information, including specifications, from the bus company earlier in the week.

"The next step will be to finalize what we want, or what we don't want on the bus. We're going to do that today, or tomorrow at the latest, and then we'll issue a purchase order to the DOT no later than tomorrow," Youngren said.

During the course of the bus order discussion, the commission acknowledged an item on the agenda regarding the potential transfer of a bus from the Bay Area Rural Transit.

Since the BART bus is a transfer from one WisDOT operation to another, Youngren stated the Commission would only have to pay 20% of the value, putting the cost of the bus at $5,914

Youngren said he has indicated interest in the bus, and that it was more of a matter of who the DOT would award the bus to.

"The question I have is, if we get this bus at a good price, do we still want to order the four new ones, or do we want to order three new ones?" Youngren asked. "We have the money for four, and we have the money for this BART bus as well."

Schreier asked what amount the commission would see should they decide to substitute a new bus with the BART bus, and if those funds could go toward raising funds for the new facility.

Youngren said he would have to follow up on Schreier's question.

Commission member Fred Radtke asked what they would do with the BART bus, seeing as it has approximately 128,000 miles on it.

Youngren explained that the BART bus would be more for on-demand services, either in Rhinelander or Minocqua area to keep the mileage down, whereas the new buses would be for routes.

"With the four that we purchase and this fifth one, I think we'd be in real strong shape," Youngren said. "In my opinion, I don't think we'd have to place another order for next year."

Mott asked for the commission's opinion on ordering three buses over four.

"Well, we've heard the advantages of having four, plus this, it gets back to money," Hayes said. "We have the money to do this. What's the downside? There is none."

"The only thing I'm thinking is what Steven's question was," Mott said. "If that $15,000 can be used, and we only have to raise $14,500, for the purchase of that building, that's significant. And I think we can deal with one less bus, if possible."

Youngren was hesitant to make that assumption.

"We've got the money in the capital account right now, and we've indicated to DOT that we want to purchase four buses this year. I just want to be very, very sure we could use that $15,000 for a facility rather than a bus," Youngren said.

With other transit systems essentially in competition for the BART bus, Schreier brought up that there was a possibility NTC wouldn't get the bus.

The commission had been confirmed for four buses from the DOT contingent upon the commission having the funds available, approximately $15,000 per bus as a local match.

"It sounds like four or five is a function of whether that bus money could be used for the facility, if it can't, that's one answer for us," Hayes said. "If it can, then the issue is, is getting a new facility more important than getting the additional bus, and I think there's an obvious answer to that one, too."

"It's either gonna be three new buses, plus possibly the one from the BART, or it's going to be four new buses and possibly the one from BART, that's the question," Mott said. "If we can use the $15,000 for the facility, then I would suggest that we go for the BART bus and three new buses. If not, then go with the four buses and the BART bus."

Youngren said he would know by the end of next week whether the NTC was awarded the BART bus.



'A lot of ifs'

The Commission weighed the benefits and detriments to pursuing the BART bus, as well potentially altering how many buses ordered from the DOT.

If the $15,000 could be used toward the new facility, Mott said he would prefer to go with three new buses and pursue the BART bus.

"It gives us four, and then use the $15,000 for purchasing the building," Mott said.

The commission questioned what would happen if they didn't get the BART bus.

"Then the question is, as manager, can you live with three?" Mott asked Youngren.

"And what if you can't use the $15,000 toward the building?" commission member Milt Klingsporn asked.

"That's why I said this is complicated," Mott said. "A lot of ifs."

Schreier said he wanted to keep the motions for pursuing the BART bus and the new bus order separate, so the commission could first determine whether there was value in pursuing the BART bus before deciding whether the bus order needed to be altered.

The commission voted unanimously to pursue the BART bus.



'I'm good with that'

Youngren said the sooner the commission made a decision on the bus order, the better.

"I'm hearing a definitive need for four buses," Schreier said. "And I feel like putting that $15,000 potential difference in there between the three or four that we don't know yet whether it can or cannot be applied towards a building."

Schreier said if he had not raised the question of whether the commission could use the $15,000 toward the new facility, the commission would be voting on four buses.

Schreier said he felt as though the commission shouldn't pass up an opportunity for a decent fleet due to the potential to apply monies to a facility the commission doesn't know for sure would work for its purposes.

"If we get the BART bus, and three, I'm good with that for this year," Youngren said. "I'd like to see us in a new facility as well, and it would take a little pressure off of raising $29,500."

Soon after approving the motion for the BART bus, Mott introduced a second motion for the commission's consideration.

It addressed pursuing questions regarding pursuing the BART bus and potentially using the extra money toward the new facility.

"I move to purchase four buses, if the $15,000 in question can't be used for the building; if the $15,000 can be used for the building, and the building is acceptable, then purchase three buses and use the $15,000 for the Transit's part of the grant for purchase of the building," Mott said. "Now, that might leave us short if we don't get the BART bus, that's the only question."

Youngren said he believed they could get an answer on whether they could use the extra funds from the fourth bus "pretty quickly."

"I would not have made this motion if we had the $29,500 sitting there," Mott said. "We don't."

After some additional discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to approve Mott's motion.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at kaylah@lakelandtimes.com.





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