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Wave Transit Set For A "Reboot" With No Property Tax Increase, Say Local Officials

New Hanover County
New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington announced a joint effort on January 7, 2020 to rewrite the interlocal agreement for Wave Transit, the area's public transportation system.

Public transportation in the Cape Fear region is about to get a reboot.  That’s the word New Hanover County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman used to describe the revision of the Wilmington / New Hanover County joint WAVE agreement.  

It was late last year that the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners ended funding for Wave Transit by 2021.  It was a split and contentious vote.

But dissolving the public transit system itself was never the goal, says County Commission Chair Julia Olson-Boseman. 

In fact, she says, a new interlocal agreement that’s now in the works will include running some routes more frequently in transportation-dependent areas.

"We need an innovative transportation system that is resourced appropriately and restructured with enhanced services -- not less services. We need to consider how rideshare and other transportation options can be incorporated. Paratransit services for those in our community who can't access fix bus routes must be enhanced."

The City of Wilmington already provides most of the funding for the area’s public transit system – which was launched in 2004.  But with a $1.4 million outlay and an unplanned $100,000-plus dollars this fiscal year, Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo says the system needs another funding model.

"And, every so often when the money runs out, they come back to the elected bodies and say, ‘we need more additional funding.’ I think it's unfair to Wave. I think it's unfair to the citizens that need the service. And it's also unfair to the taxpayers because when we set our budgets every year, we've set them and to change course in the middle of the year and ask for half a million dollars, a quarter million dollars, whatever the number is, creates a lot of angst within our elected bodies."

Last fall, Olson-Boseman told WHQR she knows and understands citizens need readily-available transportation.  But she said Wave has problems:  long wait times, routes that have very few riders, and system officials asking for more money each year to do the same things.  There’s no innovation, she told us, in meeting the needs of the community.

What Olson-Boseman describes now as a reboot will also require doing away with the current WAVE leadership.

"Our expectation or my expectation is, yes, there's going to be new management and a new board, probably a board being made up of some of the people maybe you see up here today."

It was New Hanover County Commissioners Patricia Kusek and Woody White and Wilmington City Council Members Clifford Barnett and Charlie Rivenbark who flanked County Chair Olson-Boseman and Mayor Saffo at the Tuesday afternoon announcement. 

There wasn’t a Wave official in sight.**

"Right now, I have no faith in that board and administration."

The two local government bodies will consider a joint resolution later this month to formalize their work on a new interlocal agreement.  They will direct staff to develop specific recommendations, including, says Mayor Saffo, a predictable revenue stream.

"We will also be looking at our individual agreements that oversee the governance of Wave. Do we have other municipalities at the table that need to be involved? Are they willing to support the system financially? Is the agreement balanced? Does the agreement set the stage for this next critical phase so Wave can help with the growth of our thriving City, our County, and our region?"

Saffo says they hope to do this with no property tax increase.

Officials also say they hope to have that new interlocal agreement ready by July of 2021.  And throughout the process, there will be opportunities for public input.

In the meantime, they promise the buses will continue to run.

Editor's Note:

**Albert Eby, Executive Director of Wave Transit, tells WHQR he was informed of and did attend the press conference.  No Wave officials, however, joined the county / city group on stage for the announcement.

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 4 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It's also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at rachellh@whqr.org.