South Dakota rural transit funding will be distributed on performance

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota’s providers of rural transit services seem to be getting what their leaders wanted.

The state Transportation Commission adopted rule changes Thursday including a scoring system for rural systems that rewards performance.

Funding for urban transit systems that serve Sioux Falls and Rapid City will continue to be distributed according to population.

Rural systems serve areas less than 50,000 people. In South Dakota that means cities as large as Aberdeen, Mitchell, Brandon and Dell Rapids that operate local transit systems.

Another switch Thursday calls for rural systems to receive their shares of state funding at the start of the budget year. Federal funding would continue to be on a reimbursement basis.

“It’s important they get that cash infushion at the beginning of their operating year,” state Department of Transportation lawyer Karla Engle told commissioners.

Replied commissioner Mike Vehle of Mitchell, “Once you give it, it’s hard to take away.”

The administrator who operates the state Office of Air, Rail and Transit explained the back-story about the change to a perfomance system for rural services. “Most of the reasoning is, it’s what our transit providers wanted,” Jack Dokken said.

Commissioner Don Roby of Watertown noted the sweep: “This wasn’t a change. It was a re-write.”

The performance switch will affect distribution of about $7.3 million of federal funding. That’s roughly half of the total sent to South Dakota from the federal government for transit support.

“This would give them (rural systems) an opportunity to learn from each other,” commissioner Rodney Fouberg of Aberdeen said.

In 2017, for example, the federal government provided about three-quarters of the support — $15 million — for transit systems in South Dakota, followed by local support of $2.1 million, fares of $2 million and state funding of $890,000.

Next step is receiving a green light from the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee.

Joel Jundt, the department’s deputy secretary, told commissioners they’d get the scoring results in July for the first round of funding decisions.

The commission also set a May 23 public hearing to add townships to the local governments eligible to receive state loans for road and bridge projects.

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