RTA smiles on Silver Key
But broader bus-service area expected for added $330,000

       Silver Key Senior Services will get more money - and an expanded assignment - from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) next year.
       The RTA board voted unanimously at its Dec. 14 meeting to provide $330,000 to help fund specialized transportation efforts by the Westside-based non-profit agency for the elderly. The money, which will be in addition to $70,000 the RTA already planned to give Silver Key in 2006, will be taken from a one-time transit-funds carryover of $1.2 million from 2005.
       Silver Key President John Morse had requested $400,000 in extra government money to ease the strain on private donors, who have been absorbing more than half the agency's $1-million-a-year costs to provide free (with a voluntary contribution) door-to- door bus rides for people over 60 throughout Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs.
       But how much easing will actually occur remained uncertain after the vote because one of the stipulations is that Silver Key begin providing service to unincorporated county areas. The extent of the expansion is still to be negotiated. RTA board member Wayne Williams, who made the funding motion, suggested as far east as Meridian Road in Falcon and as far west as Green Mountain Falls, so as to better respond to county areas covered by the RTA.
       “I'll do the best I can,” said Morse, who was clearly caught by surprise in that regard. Although Silver Key is “willing to bend over backwards” to be cooperative, he told the board he could not be certain how much the service can be expanded without looking at potential new areas more closely and discussing the issue with Silver Key's board of directors.
       Another factor is an unfavorable audit Silver Key received this year. Because of computer problems, the loss of a key employee to illness and a demand for more trip data than Silver Key has typically gathered, the agency has been unable this year to prove its contention that it annually provides about 90,000 trips for seniors, Morse said.
       Silver Key is working to straighten out this situation, he told the board. The RTA board vote makes that a requirement. Williams said that the previously funded $70,000 should help the transportation effort operate at least to February; in the meantime, the agency has an incentive to sort out its financial issues and negotiate an expansion plan to meet RTA needs.
       A few board members noted their aversion to using a one-time carryover windfall for a budget item that is expected to become annual. However, the hope is that transit earnings will continue to improve - thanks to the new routes added this fall - and thus be able to cover the cost when 2007 rolls around.
       Based on the legal relationship between the city and the RTA, a City Council vote may be necessary to finalize the added Silver Key stipend. City Mayor Lionel Rivera, who also chairs the RTA board, said that is his understanding, based on information from the City Attorney's Office.
       The city has already shown confidence in Silver Key by voting to allocate it $138,000 in 2006, despite the lingering audit problem. And, three members of the RTA board (Rivera, Jerry Heimlicher and Larry Small) are council members.
       According to Morse, Silver Key was prompted in large part to ask the RTA for additional help after learning that the Fountain Valley Senior Center, which provides a fifth as many trips per year, was going to receive $200,000 from the RTA in 2006.
       RTA funds come from a 1-percent sales tax for transportation needs approved by voters in 2004.

Westside Pioneer article