The Whitewater Common Council voted Tuesday, Feb. 19 in favor of a taxi fare increase in order to close a budget shortfall. The request was brought forward by city finance director, Steve Hatton and general manager of Brown Cab, Karl Schulte. The initial increase would only raise select fares. Agency fares, charges accepted by human service organizations would increase by $3 while regular fares would remain the same for adults, students, and the disabled or elderly.
However, Alderman Lynn Binnie expressed concern that there would be resistance to the fare increase and worried about how the increase would affect the elderly and disabled passengers who use are clients of human service organizations. “This is one of the most important services we provide,” Binnie says, “I feel when need is appropriate to invest city funds into this program.”
Before the council voted, the floor was opened to the public. Brienne Brown of Whitewater approached the council along with Hatton and Schulte to express concern over a loss of ridership. “I know of two disabled residents who have moved out of the area specifically because there were not cabs available when needed.”
In response, Schulte explained first that all the vehicles at Brown Cab are fully equipped to help disabled passengers. He went on to clarify that Brown Cab only operates at certain hours and cannot continue to operate beyond them. If a ride is requested that will be completed after hours of operation have ceased, the ride is usually discouraged or not accepted. He finished by saying that “we would never say no to a person is a wheelchair.”
The council voted unanimously to pass the fare increase before moving on to the next major topic of the night, which was City Manager, Cameron Clapper agenda for his upcoming trip to Madison. The trip will include a meeting with Sen. Janis Ringhand and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. A major reason for Clapper’s attendance to the meeting was the hope of convincing legislators to bring back home rule powers to municipalities. Home rule powers include a municipality having the power to condemn abandoned buildings and property to make bike paths or pedestrian walk ways, decided on locations for cell phone towers, as well as impose residency requirements on municipal employees, among other things.
Clapper made the point about taxes and tax revenue. Most of a municipality’s revenue comes from property taxes. However, Clapper along with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities are set to discuss the redistribution of funds among municipalities to help bring in more money for the individual communities. One such idea to bring in more revenue is to close the Dark Store loophole, commonly used by big box stores like Wal-Mart. The loophole allows for businesses like Wal-Mart to file property taxes as vacant and empty stores so that they can pay lower taxes. This in turn harms the community by depriving it of revenue.
The council approved of Clapper’s trip with the hope that changes could be made that would benefit the municipality.