Transit board member disillusioned about its dissolution
CHAMPAIGN — More than seven years after it was formed, the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District could vote Tuesday to ask the Champaign County board to let it go out of existence.
Or maybe not.
"I hope it's the last meeting. I suppose there could be one more meeting, just to get the letter back from the county. But this is the meeting at which we're supposed to approve the letter asking for dissolution, so this should be the end of any of those kind of actions," said board member Jack Dempsey.
But David Short, one of the founding members of the board, was less optimistic.
"My gut opinion is that there are a couple of board members along with the lawyer, especially the lawyer (Champaign attorney Brett Kepley), that are going to delay this until the cows come home. I don't expect there will have been anything accomplished when we go to the meeting Tuesday," Short said.
The five-member board is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Windsor Road Christian Church, 2501 W. Windsor Road, C.
At their last meeting in March, board members asked Kepley to investigate the process of dissolution, including the disbursement of more than $77,000 in taxpayer funds in its treasury.
Short said he "would be extremely surprised if he (Kepley) is" prepared.
"I'm just discouraged by the moving forward that hasn't taken place in the last two years. We have spent money that was totally unnecessary. The money that we have spent has just been legal fees to do this and that," he said. "I think it's just a matter of us spending more money. I don't see any reason for us to be there anymore. We have nothing to do. We go in there, and we look at each other, and everybody talks like a bunch of parrots, and nobody says anything that gets anything done. We have a 45-minute good-old-boy visit and down the road we go again."
Formation of the Champaign Southwest MTD was approved by voters in March 2006, primarily as a way of blocking the expansion into southwest Champaign of the much larger Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District.
Until this year, the smaller MTD levied a small amount in property taxes but has never provided any bus service.
"At least this year we didn't send in a tax" levy, Short said. "We didn't put any money out for taxes this year. We already have plenty of money. The only thing we have left to do is decide what to do with our bank account."
He said the smaller MTD should have dissolved itself in 2011 after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the two districts, with some overlapping areas where property owners are double-taxed, could co-exist.
"I hope this is the last meeting because we're not doing a darn thing," Short said. "It's a big joke. We are the laughingstock, and that's very discouraging to me. When we were trying to accomplish something, I was in there 110 percent. But when the Supreme Court made its decision, it was obvious it was time to pack up and go home. And we haven't done that.
"Right now, we are not being good shepherds of the money that we've been entrusted with. That's my opinion."
Short placed most of the blame for the delay on Kepley.
Short said board Chairman Edward Vaughan asked him at the last meeting if he would support giving Kepley, who has been the district's attorney since its founding in 2006, a commemorative plaque.
"I told him no, that it's a waste of money," Short said. "He's been paid; what more can he possibly want?
"I hope I am wrong about the fact that this is it, it's time to go home. But I'm not optimistic," he said. "It's just been my experience over the last five or six years that they're just going to drag it on."
Kepley said he didn't want to respond to the charges of a deliberate delay.
"If he wants to bring it up at the meeting, then I can comment at the meeting," he said.
Vaughan said only that "I suppose we will" approve the letter of dissolution, but didn't want to say more.
Dempsey added, "I hate to say that something is 100 percent, but I believe that this is. We've already voted among ourselves (at the March meeting) to dissolve. We're just voting here on the letter to request permission. The decision has been made."
He said several options for distributing the $77,000 in taxpayer funds are under discussion, including paying for annual C-U MTD passes for residents of the southwest district, or providing transit services to the disabled within the southwest district.
"That way, at least it could go back to the same people we taxed," Dempsey said. "As much as is possible, we'll try to return it to the people who paid in."
Short said, "If the county board is open to us disbursing that money in a productive way, then I think the board needs to pick one, two or three, or one general charity and give the money to that charity and let it go at that. That's my position."
Meanwhile, once the smaller MTD board has dissolved, it will clear the way for the C-U MTD to offer expanded service to southwest Champaign, according to Director Bill Volk.
"The comment by our board at its last meeting was 'We're not going to do this until they dissolve,'" he said. "We've indicated in the past that we're not going to go into other people's districts."
When the smaller MTD goes out of business, new C-U MTD service could begin as early as Aug. 18, Volk said. That will include a new Pink Line, operating on 30-minute frequency from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, to the Stephens Family YMCA and the Village at the Crossing development at Windsor and Duncan roads. There will also be extended Green Line service from Country Fair Shopping Center to the area of Springfield Avenue and Staley Road.