“Probably at least 20 people totally depend on me for their total transportation,” said Curtis Adair, supervisor of transportation for the county.
According to program records, two clients use the service to go to dialysis treatments. They each need treatment three times a week. Another client uses the service to go shopping and to doctor appointments three to five times a month. Still another client asks the service to take them to and from chemotherapy three times a month.
But the program was put in jeopardy this week after the Cleburne County Commission declined to allocate the money needed to keep it operating.
The service is funded through a combination of federal and local dollars. The county puts up a little less than half the money and a federal grant kicks in for the rest.
For fiscal year 2014, which begins in October, the commission needed to allocate $26,588. That allocation would make the county eligible to receive $31,706 from a federal grant disbursed by the Alabama Department of Transportation. The deadline for participating in the grant program is Aug. 9, three days before the County Commission’s next scheduled meeting, said Steve Swafford, county administrator.
The East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission manages the grant for the department.
“The funds pass through our agency," said Shane Christian, project administrator of the commission.
Six counties in the commission’s 10-county area including Cleburne receive funding through the rural transit grant program, he said. Two others, Tallapoosa and Etowah counties, have their own public transit programs separate from the commission, Christian said. Only Chambers and Randolph counties have no transit program, he said.
The programs are important to the riders, Christian said.
“We often provide transportation to people who have no other options,” Christian said.
Adair said Cleburne County’s transportation program started in 1994 to serve the county’s senior centers. It expanded into public transportation and now serves as public transportation only, he said.
It is an on-demand program that runs Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. His clients call at least 24 hours in advance to schedule a ride and Adair lets them know what time he will have to pick them up to get all the riders to their appointments on time. Adair drives his clients anywhere in Cleburne and Calhoun counties as well as Carroll and Haralson counties in Georgia, he said.
Most of his clients are elderly or low-income, Adair said. There are regular riders and then others who he sees intermittently.
Over the last couple of years, ridership has been on the rise, which he believes is because of the economy, Adair said. In fiscal year 2010, the program had an average of 48 riders a month. In fiscal year 2011, ridership rose to an average of 78 per month and in fiscal year 2012 it was 92.
The program is funded by a 10-cent portion of the tobacco tax. In February, Commissioner Emmett Owen had asked about using the tobacco tax money or part of it for discretionary funds for the commissioners.
Attempts to reach Owen for comment were unsuccessful.
However, commissioners Laura Cobb and Benji Langley had said their concerns about the allocation were simply about needing more information. They didn’t realize that the allocation needed to be funded immediately, they said.
Cleburne County Administrator Steve Swafford said he was able to get an extension until after the next regular commission meeting from the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.