Waterford residents who are dependent on public transportation can now sleep easy, as Wednesday the Board of Finance decided to fund Southeastern Connecticut Area Transit (SEAT).
SEAT provides public transportation to nine towns, including Waterford, with runs to the Crystal Mall, Waterford Stop & Shop and the Waterford Commons. The Board of Finance voted to tentatively cut all funding to the service, but soon learned they were required to pay for the service by state statute.
“If this was a business, we wouldn’t pay,” Board of Finance Chairman Ron Fedor said. “As you have probably gathered from our meetings in the last couple of years, we are not very happy with the way the service is being run.”
State statue allows SEAT to set an assessment, which the town has to pay, according to First Selectman Dan Steward. The town was not even sure if it could drop out of SEAT without changing state statutes, Steward said.
In 2011, the Board of Finance cut $5,000 from SEAT’s assessment, a decision the SEAT later came back and said Waterford had to pay the $5,000 total, or they would have to drop out of SEAT.
Steward called the request a and refused to pay. The next night the Board of Finance voted to eliminate all town funding for SEAT for the upcoming year,
The town investigated, and discovered they had to pay what SEAT asked from them per state statute, Steward said. Still, many Board of Finance members were unhappy with many of the answers SEAT Executive Director Ella Bowman gave them, with many saying that the SEAT was not efficiently running its service.
For example, Board of Finance member Alan Wilensky asked Bowman how the $43,000 figure came about. Bowman said it was based on a formula from 1979 that she didn’t know, and it is likely SEAT no longer follows it, she said.
“There is no magic formula,” Bowman said.
This annoyed Wilensky, who said there should be a clear formula determining what Waterford is assessed. Just requesting a dollar amount, and knowing it has to be paid because of state statute is not acceptable, he said.
“I don’t like the hammer,” Wilensky said.
Fedor added on, saying the letter sent to the town demanding the $5,000 is not something a “business partner” would do. Instead, it was more like something somebody would send if they knew they had a state statute backing their decision, he said.
Bowman countered that what the Town of Waterford pays is very little compared to the services SEAT provides to the town, with most of the money coming from federal and state taxes. However, basic questions like Waterford ridership should be answered, because “we all pay federal taxes and state taxes as well,” Board of Finance member Mark Wiggins said.
Fedor ended by saying the town should see if it can find “alternatives” to SEAT. The Board of Finance's decision still needs to be approved by the RTM before becoming official.