City tax funds could be transferred to VIA

Recommendation would transfer city's ATD tax money to VIA

SAN ANTONIO – A committee tasked with weighing the pros and cons of a new funding idea for VIA Metropolitan Transit unanimously approved a plan Wednesday to use $10 million in tax dollars earmarked for the city to help improve VIA's bus system.

More money for VIA could mean buses stopping more often, which would increase ridership and hopefully decrease traffic congestion.

"Whereas VIA has some rides that operate every 60 minutes, in Houston and Dallas they have some rides that operate every 20 to 30 minutes -- or even better than that," said VIA Deputy CEO Keith Hom.

Transits in Houston and Dallas are funded by a one-cent Metropolitan Transit Authority tax.

In San Antonio, VIA gets a half-cent in MTA tax.

The new funding idea centers around the quarter-cent Advanced Transportation District tax that was approved by voters in 2004.

The city receives a fourth of that quarter-cent tax, which adds up to roughly $15 million annually.

VIA receives its own portion of the ATD fund: half of that quarter cent. The Texas Department of Transportation receives the remaining fourth.

To supplement some of the funding VIA says it needs, District 4 City Councilman Rey Saldana proposed giving VIA a portion of the city's ATD money.

It's an idea the Advanced Transportation District ad hoc committee has been studying. The committee Wednesday recommended the city give $10 million of its ATD dollars to VIA, while the remaining $5 million would continue to be used for sidewalks.

That would mean the city would have to find other ways to fund what that $10 million pays for now.

But Saldana said the city has options.

"VIA has no levers left to fund operations of their system, while the city has five or four different levers to fund streets, sidewalks, traffic signals," Saldana said.

City Attorney Martha Sepeda told the committee there was no legal issue with transferring the money to VIA.

Some committee members raised concerns about public trust and the need for clear communication with taxpayers about how the money would be used.

The discussion was not enough for Don Dixon, who used to work in automotive manufacturing.

"I think this is going to be a trust issue for the public because that's not the way they understood it," Dixon said, referring to the 2004 election that approved the ATD tax.

The committee's recommendation will go before the city's Transportation, Technologies and Utilities Commission in August.

It must be approved by the full city council before the funding plan could be implemented in 2018.

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