By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield officials are planning to ask the city of Princeton, and the Mercer County Commission, to provide an increased level of funding assistance for the operation of the Bluefield Area Transit system.
The transit system is operated by the city of Bluefield, but serves all of Mercer County, and a significant portion of McDowell County, Mayor Linda Whalen said.
“We finance the bulk of the Bluefield transit system,” Whalen said during Tuesday’s Bluefield Board of Director’s meeting. “The Mercer County Commission gives a small amount of the transit funds every year, as does the city of Princeton. I don’t remember those numbers right off, but it’s a very small portion compared to what the city of Bluefield has to contribute. And McDowell County doesn’t contribute anything. But the whole county is benefiting from this as well as McDowell County.”
Whalen said the transit system now average 15,000 plus riders.
The city is currently in the process of relocating the BAT system from its current site at the old freight station on Bluefield Avenue to a newly annexed area of John Nash Boulevard. However, when the move is completed, the city will lose approximately $30,000 a year of in-kind credits that are received for allowing the transit system to lease the city-owned facility on Bluefield Avenue at no charge. When the BAT system moves to the new state-funded facility on John Nash Boulevard, the city will have to cover the additional monetary expense associated with the free-lease credit.
Whalen said the Bluefield board will request help from the city of Princeton and the Mercer County Commission in off-setting that additional monetary cost.
She said the city agreed to take on the responsibility of the BAT system years ago even though many of the transit routes are in Princeton and McDowell County as opposed to Bluefield.
“We have one of the finest transit systems in our state,” Whalen said. “I think we need to go before the city of Princeton, and the Mercer County Commission, and ask for an increase in what they contribute.”
However, Princeton Mayor Patricia “Pat” Wilson said Wednesday that city officials in Princeton have not received a request from Bluefield for additional funding support.
“It’s news to me,” Wilson said. “I know we support the transit now. We have our budget retreat in February where we plan our budget for the next year.”
However, Wilson said the BAT system is very helpful to Princeton.
“Sure it is,” Wilson said. “Especially to a lot of our elderly people because I know they go down to the Princeton Towers to pick up people there.”
The BAT system currently provides several regular routes in Mercer County, including South Bluefield, Cumberland Road in Bluefield, downtown Princeton, and a Princeton to Bluefield route. Routes also are provided toward Gary and Premier in McDowell County, as well as the U.S. Route 52 route that extends into McDowell County. Non-emergency transportation routes — such as trips to the doctor or the mall — also can be scheduled in advance by citizens.
Whalen said Bluefield officials will make the funding request to the city of Princeton, and the Mercer County Commission, in the near future. She said the city wouldn’t make an immediate request at this time to the McDowell County Commission because the state of West Virginia currently covers, or waives, the local McDowell County match for the operation of the BAT system based upon county demographics.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com