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Prairie Express overhaul stalls

By Staff | Aug 11, 2008

Tom Loveall

It seems plans to change the management of Prairie Express are stalled and going nowhere.

Faribault County Commissioners put out requests for bids to turn the public transit system over to a private business to operate. At their meeting last Tuesday, the board learned they had received no bids.

“The problem is any new operator has to keep our current employees, and they want to use their own people,” Commis-sioner Bill Groskreutz says.

The reason potential bidders would need to keep the local people employed is the county receives federal funds to operate the system. Federal law gives job protection to all workers who receive any government money.

In fact, the county would have to continue to pay it’s transit employees for six years, with full benefits, should the operation be turned over to a private business or abandoned, according to Brenda Ripley, county central services director.

The commissioners had hoped to privatize the public bus service and eventually merge it with Martin County’s system.

Commissioner Tom Loveall says it was MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) who was pushing this plan.

“They (MnDOT) feel bad we got blindsided by this poison pill built into the federal rules,” Loveall says. “They were not aware of it.”

Loveall says MnDOT’s goal was a unified regional system that wouldn’t end at county lines.

The commissioners discussed moving forward with the transit system and smoothing out the bumps in it’s operations.

“We are going to have a meeting on Aug. 12,” Ripley told the board, “There we will work out the bus policies. We need to have all users and staff understand the rules.”

Commissioner Barb Steier agreed.

“We need all county residents treated the same,” she says. “I am not happy when some people are told they are calling too early and then later told it is too late to book a ride.”

She also suggests a meeting with the school next spring to work out the transit schedules for the summer, saying it caused a lot of problems this year. Older adults and young children were all trying to get to different destinations at the same time.

“On what basis do you assign a ride, and can you do it a year ahead of time,” Loveall wonders.

Groskreutz pointed out a need to do a full study of the bus rates.

“Higher energy costs and salary increases are going to drive up rates,” he says.

The other commissioners agreed that rates also need to be addressed at the policy meeting.

In other matters, Faribault County Recorder Nancy Huff gave a detailed report on her office’s continued efforts to digitize all of their records.

They are working both on electronic recording of current documents, as well as converting hundreds of thousands of microfilm images to a digital format.

County Engineer John McDonald’s report to the commissioners included information on a proposed bridge replacement in Verona Township.

McDonald estimated the cost to be $350,000 which includes smoothing out a curve in the road.

He also says the railroad crossing replacement in Huntley has been finished.