CHAMPAIGN — More than six months after voting itself out of business, the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit District board has made it official.
Board Chairman Edward Vaughan has sent a one-page letter, dated Dec. 19, to the Champaign County Board formally dissolving the mass transit agency that in its seven-year existence never provided transit services.
"The Board of Trustees of the Champaign Southwest Mass Transit, by unanimous consent, certify that it has determined that there is no longer a need for its public transportation services and/or that other adequate services can be made available and that its existence should be terminated," said the letter from Vaughan.
The five members of the board voted on June 18 to dissolve the taxing district and to give about $75,000 remaining in its treasury to establish an endowment fund to provide transportation services for residents within the boundaries of the transit district in southwest Champaign. The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois was appointed to oversee the endowment fund.
The Champaign Southwest MTD was created on March 21, 2006, by a vote of the residents of an area primarily west of Interstate 57 between Interstate 72 on the north and Curtis Road on the south.
Its supporters and board members have admitted since that time that their real goal was not to provide bus service, but to prevent expansion of the larger and higher-taxing Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District into the area.
But after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that both districts could operate simultaneously, a majority of the members of the Champaign Southwest board said there was no reason to continue to exist, particularly when about 75 percent of Champaign Southwest MTD residents ended up being taxed by both transit districts.
The last year that smaller district levied a property tax, the Champaign-Urbana MTD had a tax rate of more than 27 cents per $100 of assessed valuation while the smaller MTD had a rate of about 2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Under terms of an intergovernmental agreement — and now that the smaller transit district is dissolved — the larger MTD will be free to provide service and to annex those areas that are in the city of Champaign.
Champaign-Urbana MTD board Chairman Don Uchtmann called the letter from Vaughan "certainly significant" because it allows the larger district to continue to serve the Stephens Family YMCA and apartment complexes and neighborhoods in southwest Champaign. For some time, the larger MTD had resisted providing service there because it was within the boundaries of the smaller district.
"The receipt of this letter was very important because we had basically made an exception to our policy about not operating in another district," Uchtmann said. "We made an exception to that to give the Southwest district time to go through its dissolution process. But we don't like to operate in violation of our established policies.
"It's my understanding that the Southwest district has taken this final step that appears to be required by statute, and that we'll no longer be providing service out there in violation of our overall policy."
He added that "I truly believe the citizens of our community are best served by a transportation system where people get on the bus and off the bus within the same district, without having to sort through the boundaries and things like that."
Although he said he had not seen the letter, Champaign County Board Chairman Alan Kurtz said Monday that he didn't think any action was required of the county board. "As far as I can tell, once that letter is received, they're dissolved. There's nothing we need to do," he said.