The Hill Country Transit District will be asking for slightly less money when they present their next budget request to the Copperas Cove City Council.

Interim City Manager Ryan Haverlah told the council members at the beginning of a special meeting Friday afternoon that budget requests from outside groups seeking money from the city will be heard at a special council workshop Aug. 1. But presentations at that workshop will be limited to 10 minutes. Haverlah said the complicated nature of the transit district’s upcoming budget request required extra time, which is why the meeting was needed.

During an in-depth presentation to the council, Darrell Burtner from the Hop took city council members through the process the transit district uses to determine what they request from communities served by bus service known as the Hop.

Burtner, who is the urban operations director for the district, said his role was to present as much information as possible to the city council and the public. Hill Country Transit needs to have its budget in place by mid-August, which created the need to hold a series of presentations with cities such as Killeen, Temple and Copperas Cove that are served by the Hop.

Burtner emphasized at the beginning of his presentation that the leaders of Bell County and each city within the transit district determine the level of service they receive. Hill Country Transit determines how much it costs per hour to run routes in each community and then tells each city what it will cost to add to, subtract from or maintain its current level of service. It’s then up to each government to determine what they are willing to pay, and the district adjusts the bus routes as needed.

Burtner said the estimated cost per service hour for the next fiscal year is $94.

Hill Country is planning to ask the city council for $98,089 for operations in the next fiscal year. That’s a slight reduction from the $100,000 dollars asked for and granted by the council last year.

Burtner also noted that the district had no intention to raise fares in the next fiscal year. Burtner explained that fare box money is taken out of the Hop’s operating expenses before any federal grants are applied. By increasing the money taken in from fares, the district would see a reduction in federal contributions. Moreover, doubling fares on Hop buses to $2 would have a financial impact on low-income riders and would likely lead to reduced ridership. That would lead to additional cuts in the amount of federal money the district would receive.

However, that does not mean Hill Country is giving up on ways to raise revenue. Burtner said the district is exploring putting advertising on buses. He said early talks with a company that sells ads and then puts them on the buses shows the district would collect more money than if it raised fares. Moreover, that money could be applied to the district’s matching funds and would not affect any grants received from the federal government.

Burtner said the advertising idea is still being investigated and could be in place as early as January.

After the presentation, Councilman Marc Payne asked Burtner if it might be possible for the transit district to lease buses to other groups or companies outside of current operating hours. Burtner said he didn’t know if there was any policy that might prevent bus leasing, but he was unsure if it would be a good idea due to the maintenance cost.

Councilman Dan Yancey expressed disappointment that it had taken so long for Hill Country to explore the idea of advertising on buses as a means to raise revenue. While he was happy that the ad revenue might help the transit district, he wondered why the possibility hadn’t been explored sooner. Burtner said he was told when he started at the agency that the idea was too expensive and time-consuming. He added that if someone within the district was selling the ads that might be true, but that having an outside company do the work made the idea profitable.

Councilman Jay Manning said that he was still having problems with having city taxpayers foot so much of the bill for operating the transit service. He felt that riders rather than taxpayers should contribute more to the operation of the Hop.

The Hill Country Transit District will hold two public meetings this month to get input about its plans for the next fiscal year. The first will be held at 6 p.m. June 18 at the City of Killeen Transportation Office. The second will be held at 6 p.m. June 20 at the Temple Public Library.

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