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RVC council approves specialized transportation grant

Rocky View Regional Handibus Society was one of the recipients of funding from Rocky View County for specialized transportation. According to Executive Director Paul Siller, the organization's growth has outpaced its funding. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing

Rocky View County (RVC) will continue to support organizations and individuals that help seniors get to and from medical appointments through the Specialized Transportation Assistance Grant, although council was split on how much money different organizations ought to receive.

According to Althea Panaguiton, community services co-ordinator with Recreation, Parks and Community Support, the grant is intended to subsidize transportation costs related to medical appointments for seniors and persons with disabilities. This year, $303,500 was available to fund the grant, she said.

“Specialized transportation is provided by the Rocky View Regional Handibus Society (RVRHS) and the Bragg Creek Snowbirds Seniors Fellowship (BCSSF),” Panaguiton said in a presentation to council at a regular meeting May 14.

RVRHS provides transportation to medical appointments for county residents on a demand-response model where riders make arrangements for the bus ahead of time, while BCSSF, Bragg Creek’s over-50 club, provides transportation for seniors using volunteer drivers. The two organizations requested $303,434 and $14,000 respectively, Panaguiton said, in anticipation of increased use this year –RVRHS projects 4660 total service trips and BCSSF expects to see 260.

Both organizations presented their mandates to the Governance and Priorities Committee (GPC) May 7. Bob Hughes, BCSSF treasurer, said the service has grown from 92 trips in 2017 to 102 trips in the first four months of 2019, necessitating increased funding. He added BCSSF does not charge for the service.

Meanwhile, Paul Siller, executive director of RVRHS, said its growth has outpaced its funding. Since 2015, the number of trips provided each year has increased by between 17 and 19 per cent. RVRHS has increased its municipal fee schedule by 50 cents per year to hit a rate of $11 per capita, but Siller said the organization is falling behind.

RVC also reimburses “individuals who may have specific medical needs and require transportation outside of the service areas of these two providers,” Panaguiton said. Those individuals can arrange their own trips and can be reimbursed $500 per client or a lower pro-rated limit. This year, 14 applicants applied for reimbursement, she added.

“The total requested amount from this year exceeds the available funding for the grant,” Panaguiton said. “As [the grant’s policy] does not provide specific guidance towards the allocation of funds to each application, the option before council is based on the grants provided and spent by the respective organizations and individuals in the previous year.”

Administration recommended council approve $289,000 for RVRHS, $7,500 for BCSSF and $7,000 for other qualified candidates.

Coun. Kevin Hanson said he was “not convinced” BCSSF had “a strong business plan,” and preferred helping RVRHS.

“I appreciate the Snowbirds running this, and I understand the volunteerism, but at the end of the day, whether the money goes to the Snowbirds or the money goes to the Rocky View Handibus, people still get rides,” he said. “I heard nothing to say the Handibus doesn’t provide an effective service out in Bragg Creek, with our GPC meeting.”

He then moved to grant $296,500 for RVRHS and $7,000 for qualified individuals, with no funding going to BCSSF – garnering much opposition.

“While I have stated and agree we need to look at synergies and opportunities to maximize our spending between, say, the Handibus service and the Bragg Creek service, to pull the rug out – when our role is to support these groups – is, I think, highly inappropriate,” said Coun. Kim McKylor.

Coun. Samanntha Wright proposed a friendly amendment, where BCSSF would receive the same funding as last year – $5,000 – with $291,500 going to RVRHS and $7,000 to qualified individuals. Her amendment failed 5-4, with only Couns. Crystal Kissel, Jerry Gautreau and Hanson voting alongside her.

Hanson’s original motion was then soundly defeated 8-1.

McKylor subsequently moved to award the funding as recommended by administration. Her motion was carried 8-1, with Wright opposed.


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