Residents speak in support of transit system

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

HUNTINGBURG — Norb Olinger uses the Huntingburg Transit Authority each morning to visit Dairy Queen for a cup of coffee.

According to his wife, Judy, the van rides and his coffee time are important for his socialization as he suffers from dementia.

“Not only that, but it’s an hour and a half that I can sit down at the drawing board or the computer and get some real good work done,” she said. “It’s really a great service. It’s a great ministry, frankly, because the people who run it are not only professional at their job, but they are also caregivers. And they’re very honestly caring.”

Mrs. Olinger was among about 20 people who attended the Huntingburg Common Council meeting Thursday in support of the transit service. They included drivers, riders and family members of riders. Seven of the people spoke, calling the vans a vital community service, before the council approved an annual resolution to apply for federal funding for the transportation service.

City office manager and transit Director Sue Tooley, who invited the speakers to the meeting, said she thought the council would appreciate hearing from the van users themselves.

“I really think you need to see the service side of it,” she said. “You’ve heard the numbers side. You heard the report during the budget (hearing).”

Bill Powell of Ferdinand spoke for his elderly parents, Jack and Jean Powell of Huntingburg, who have been married 69 years. Jack says he “is sneaking up on” 92. Jean is 86.

“Their marriage is based on togetherness, all the time, but the last few years were difficult,” Bill Powell said said.

His mother had two hip surgeries over the last three years and spent her recovery time at The Waters of Huntingburg.

“That forced them to be apart,” he said. “I’m very thankful I was able to call up to City Hall and go ahead and buy tickets for dad to ride” from his home on State Road 64 to visit his wife each day for lunch.

City resident Randy Mullen, an amputee in a wheelchair, said he uses the vans almost every day to get around town.

“That transit van, I don’t know what I’d do without it,” he said. “I use it Monday through Friday and have been using it for about six years.”

In 2012, the transit service provided 19,268 rides. From 2009 through 2012, the service tallied 57,641 rides. Another 5,338 rides have been counted through July of this year.

The service received $42,724 in federal money last year, with the state chipping in an additional $13,206. The city spent another $50,553 to fill the gap. This year the service has received $39,887 in federal dollars and $18,261 in state funds. The total funding the city will contribute won’t be known until the end of the year, depending on what expenses arise.

Tooley said the city expects to receive$45,532 in federal funding for 2014 and a similar amount of state funding as received in 2013.

Mayor Denny Spinner commended Tooley and the transit staff for their caring and dedicated service.

“It’s more than just a service,” he said. “It’s a lifeblood for our community, a way for people to maintain connections and friendships. It goes beyond just pulling up and driving somebody someplace.”

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




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