The Olympia City Council should restore funding for the Amtrak Centennial Station this year, Mayor Doug Mah has proposed, an action that would reverse the council's earlier unanimous decision to cut funding.
The topic will be discussed at tonight’s council meeting at 7 p.m. at Council Chambers, 900 Plum St. S.E.
The train station, at 6600 Yelm Highway S.E. in Lacey, is owned and supported by Intercity Transit, but Olympia and five other local jurisdictions have agreed to provide maintenance money since it was built in 1993. Olympia owed $11,067 for 2011, according to a population-based formula from Intercity Transit.
The Olympia City Council voted unanimously in December not to include funding for the station in its 2011 budget, citing the ongoing economic downturn.
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Mah said he now suggests restoring funding for the station because it puts the city “at the table” with the other jurisdictions to find alternative funding. Some options discussed were a ticket surcharge or charging for parking.
Another factor, Mah said, was public comment.
“We’ve received numerous e-mails expressing support to continue funding Centennial Station,” he said. “This was information that was not made aware to us at the time we made the decision.”
It costs about $70,000 per year to maintain the station. The cost is split between the jurisdictions based on population — Thurston County, Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, Yelm and the Port of Olympia. Amtrak, which does not staff the station, is providing $8,619 in funding this year. Volunteers alone staff the station.
Mah’s change of heart comes after a meeting last month of the other jurisdictions, some of which criticized Olympia, noting that the city signed an agreement to provide funding through 2013. But the agreement allowed the city to simply not budget money for the station.
Mike Harbour, the general manager of Intercity Transit, expressed concern that Olympia’s withholding of money would cause the other jurisdictions to increase their costs or have Intercity Transit make up the difference.
Mah had earlier suggested the latter option, questioning whether supporting a train station was part of the city’s core responsibilities.
But after hearing the concerns of the other jurisdictions, Mah agreed to bring the matter back to the Olympia City Council, conditional on a letter being issued that enumerated that other funding sources for the station would be pursued. That letter was written on Feb. 23, and spells out that all the jurisdictions agree that:
– Intercity Transit will “begin development of a plan for moving to sustainable funding” for the station.
– Intercity Transit will provide information about passenger boardings and costs and include it in the annual report to the jurisdictions. The report will show the savings by using volunteers, and that there is a waiting list for volunteers.
– All the separate interlocal funding agreements between the jurisdictions and Intercity Transit will be rewritten into one agreement.
Intercity Transit Spokeswoman Meg Kester welcomed the city’s potential change of heart.
“We are very very pleased should the city decide to restore their current funding obligation,” she said. “The reason it has been successful and has functioned so well is because of the working partnership.”