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Public transport for seniors in Culver could increase

April 14, 2013

The Culver community could see a dramatic increase in public transportation in the foreseeable future, provided municipal funds can be made available to bring the notion to fruition.

At a Culver town council work session March 26, members of the council discussed the matter with Jackie Wright of the Marshall County Council on Aging, after town manager Dave Schoeff invited Wright to speak in response to a request and subsequent survey on the matter.

Schoeff said response to the survey was “pretty good,” and overwhelmingly in favor of increased public transportation for seniors and others in Culver.

Currently, a Council on Aging vehicle visits Culver each Wednesday, and for a $2 charge per locale, drives seniors and others in need of transport to shopping or other errands in the Culver community. Wright noted similar services are offered by the Council across the county.

Those needing transport to medical appointments, including to other communities such as South Bend or Plymouth, may also make an appointment by calling the Council at 574-936-9904 (the Council is online at www.marshallcountycouncilonaging.org).

Wright explained that, about a year and a half ago, the Council on Aging began a “Community Cab” program utilizing a van which stays in Plymouth throughout the day.

“We made it look like a taxi cab and called it a cab, and we had a 56 percent increase in use,” she said.

Wright described the Council’s public transportation program as “underutilized in Culver.

“Can I put a van in Culver all day long, every day? No. I don’t have enough money and I don’t know if it’s warranted.”

Instead, she said, there’s a possibility of leaving a vehicle in Culver throughout the day Wednesday and possibly additional days, with an emphasis on not steering residents to out-of-town businesses.

“It would be hard to walk from Garden Court (senior apartments, on South Main Street) to the grocery. We could do that,” she said. “We may be able to negotiate something with Park N Shop (grocery in Culver) that, if you go on the van on Wednesdays, they would give the senior discount (which is normally limited to Tuesdays).”

Wright also said that, although the Council on Aging receives funding from various sources, in order to facilitate an increased presence in Culver, it’s hoped the town might aid in subsidizing the venture.

“The (Culver) population is aging. It could be a good way for Culver to ease into transportation for the area, but without jumping in with both feet like buying your own van -- it’s very expensive.”

Council member Bill Githens asked Wright for a ballpark dollar figure, and also noted Union Township funds could be sought to feed into costs.
Wright explained the City of Plymouth gives $6,000 towards the cost of the van, though in that case the vehicle is there daily. Instead, she said, $2,000 from Culver “would be great.”

“It would take a little while for it to totally catch fire,” she added, “but I was shocked at what happened in Plymouth. I would love to see it catch fire in Culver and to have a Culver cab.”

She said the van could potentially be parked at sites such as the Forest Place senior apartments or Garden Court. Any age person may utilize the vehicles, she noted.

Council member Ginny Munroe suggested town clerk Karen Heim can investigate how to underwrite the cost, and the matter could possibly be put into next year’s town budget.

“I think it’s a good thing and it’s not that costly,” she said.
Wright added appreciation of the work undertaken by the town of Culver on the matter.

“No other city office has been so helpful,” she said.

In other discussion, council members considered the need for local emergency services to more thoroughly advertise their meetings in light of open public meetings laws. Town attorney Jim Clevenger noted exceptions include executive sessions to discuss personnel or litigation. He also said boards -- such as EMS and fire -- can post the schedules for all their meetings one year out, rather than having to post each meeting as it’s about to happen.

Githens pointed out newly appointed members of various local boards and committees should be educated as to their various responsibilities and legalities.

“It would be nice,” he added, “if you have an issue on fire or EMS, if council knows about it, rather than finding out after the fact. It torqued my chain on the last three incidents when we didn’t know.”

Munroe responded that the incidents in question went from executive session to the town manager, and then to the council.

Also discussed were accounts controlled by some departments -- such as fire -- when donations are made to them.

“I don’t think any of us know what’s in it,” she said. “Is that supposed to be public record? We have to be open about all our finances.”

Clevenger said in his research the state statute on such matters is unclear.

“State statute honestly doesn’t contemplate small towns and the volunteerism that goes on and that people want to donate some money with no strings on it. But if somebody makes a donation to EMS specifically for them to do something, that person should probably let us know so they know it’s been done. I think it comes down to what kind of policy council wants to establish.”

“I’m thinking of the park situation where people donated for pickets and people were angry coming at us and the park board about it,” said Munroe. “It’s not saying there’s something to hide, but maybe that information should be public.”

“As your town manager,” added Schoeff, “I would love to see some thought put into some type of policy to better help us with your direction as to how to lead the town moving forward, and who’s responsible for what, and who reports to whom.”

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