Silver Key: No transportation cuts, despite RTA ‘08 funding reduction

       A tight economy in 2007 is having a ripple effect on Silver Key Senior Services in 2008.
       The impact works this way: Because people in El Paso County spent less than expected on taxable items in '07, the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA)'s 1-cent sales tax did not meet predictions, meaning the RTA budget going into '08 had less to spare for specialized transportation services for seniors such as those that Silver Key and other entities provide.
       As a result, instead of $300,000 from the RTA, as it got each of the past two years, Silver Key's program received less than half that this year - $130,000. The allocation was finalized at the January RTA meeting.
       “It's going to have a huge effect,” Silver Key CEO David Shaffer said afterward. However, he stopped short of predicting program cuts, stressing that the Westside- based non-profit agency will first look for ways to be more efficient. If any reductions turn out to be necessary, they will likely be in areas other than transportation because “we think that is one of our key areas,” he said.
       A report to the RTA summarizes the entity's driving service: “Silver Key uses 18 buses and nine mini-vans to transport seniors on a variety of scheduled and non- scheduled trips; half of these trips are for medical appointments.” About 60,000 seniors a year - who pay no fee but are asked to donate what they can - take advantage of the service, agency records show. Government benefits from this, because it helps those riders to keep living independently instead of costing more Medicaid money by having to go into nursing homes, Shaffer said.
       A shrinking of Silver Key's transportation service area is not contemplated, even though taking on a significantly larger area was part of its initial deal with RTA starting in 2006. That year, the RTA board allocated $400,000 to help with Silver Key's estimated $1 million in annual transportation costs for the first time. In return, the agency agreed to provide rides to a part of the county at least a third bigger than its old area of “just” Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
       The $400,000 worked out to be $300,000 in '06 because the agency returned $100,000 to the RTA at the end of the year, which the RTA board allowed to became carryover into 2007. That amount was then added to a $200,000 RTA stipend so that Silver Key again had a total of $300,000 from the RTA in its '07 budget.
       Silver Key had hoped for at least the same amount again in '08 because of increasing costs. Fuel prices have risen; in addition, the report notes repair and maintenance costs averaging $2,000 per vehicle a year “for our aging fleet.”
       At first the amount this year was to be only $70,000, but the RTA board came up with $60,000 extra by reducing transit reserves from 10 to 9 percent. Shaffer expressed gratitude to the board members for making this extra effort. Prior to that, the meeting minutes note his telling them he feared that 15,000 service trips might have to be cut in '08.
       Along with a tight economy, Silver Key has to compete each year for a share of available RTA money with three other specialized-transportation entities that provide partially overlapping services. These are the Fountain Valley Senior Center, Amblicab and The Resource Exchange. But it is also hoped that additional savings can come from collaborating with those agencies as much as possible, Shaffer said.
       One way this can be achieved is through a new job position created by the regional planning agency, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG). This position, titled a mobility manager, “will look at all transportation funding sources and find out what's available,” Shaffer said. “It will drive collaboration among providers. There is a strength of numbers we can achieve.”
       Silver Key also receives transportation funding from other government sources at city, regional and state levels, but about three-quarters of its money comes from donations, with costs also defrayed by the contributions of about 400 volunteers.
       Shaffer hopes to bolster that area by hiring a volunteer coordinator in the near future. Increasing the number of volunteer drivers would be a key part of that: “We're now about 60 drivers short,” he said.
       There are no hard feelings about the reduction in government funds. “We understand that the city and the county are in a crunch,” he said. “Everybody is strapped. We just try to make sure our clients are as unaffected as possible.”

Westside Pioneer article