BANGOR, Maine — With just two private donations, Bangor has raised $4,000 to keep the Odlin Road Community Connector bus route going for at least the next few months.
City Councilor Joe Baldacci officially announced Wednesday that he is giving up his council salary for the year, about $2,000, to help continue the route until city and Community Connector officials can come up with some sort of arrangement to keep it open for the long term.
“With my donation, and another private donation made Monday night, our short term goal has been reached to extend the bus route through until at least Nov. 1 of this year,” Baldacci said in a statement. “Now we have time to work on our longer term goal of creating a public/private partnership to keep that bus route up and running.”
The Odlin Road Route is unique in that it was sparked by a 5-year petition effort by community members and private businesses. City officials believed the route wouldn’t be heavily used and the number of trips per day were limited to seven.
Community Connector also expected that the route wouldn’t generate enough revenue to fund itself, so businesses along the route originally volunteered to pitch in, according to City Council Chairman Nelson Durgin. Most never paid, Durgin said, so the city picked up the tab.
The route was targeted for elimination this summer in the wake of one of the most trying budget seasons anyone on the council or in city hall could remember. This year’s budget saw cuts across many departments, including Community Connector, which was told to chop $20,000 from its costs. That happened to be the annual cost of the Odlin Road route.
Community Connector’s budgeted expenses for Bangor routes this year is about $1.7 million. Its revenues are about $1.3 million raised through advertising, fares and federal and state grants. The City of Bangor covers the remaining gap of about $400,000, according to the city’s finance director, Debbie Cyr.
The Odlin Road route, the least traveled in the bus system, is also the newest. The route made its debut in April 2012 after a push by community members, business owners and councilors who wanted service in the area. The route passes by several industrial parks, hotels and restaurants, making seven trips per day, while most others run double that. City Councilors and interim bus superintendent, Laurie Linscott, have said the route was gaining momentum and drawing more ridership, but didn’t have long enough to prove itself.
The route was scheduled to shut down Aug. 19, but on Monday the council voted to create an account to stem its closure. Two major donations already have accomplished the goal of maintaining the route into the fall. One was Baldacci’s, but the first was made by Discovery House, an outpatient center for people recovering from addiction that is located along the route.
Brent Miller, director of the center, has said that the bus is the only way many of his clients can make it to Odlin Road to receive their daily treatment.
Discovery House was one of the original businesses that offered to help fund the route in 2012, but fell on hard times after budget cuts of more than 10 percent in consecutive years. This year, Discovery House managed to scrape up the money, Miller said.
Durgin said an open letter has gone out to businesses in the area, welcoming donations, and he believes other donations should be coming into the fund in the near future.
Community Connector faces a big unknown that could dig even deeper into its bottom line, according to Assistant City Manager Bob Farrar. The state recently changed how it funds some Mainers’ public transportation costs under Medicare and Medicaid. That change could mean a $100,000-$150,000 — potentially higher — loss in expected revenue this year for Community Connector, which would result in more significant cuts and changes for the bus service provider, fare hikes, or a tax increase for Bangor residents.
City staff and councilors will have to determine how that cut would affect the viability of the Odlin Road route and other bus services in the future.
“The necessity is to raise the $20,000 to keep that route going for the year,” Durgin said. “Right now, we’ve got it covered for a while.”