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Town agrees to fund seniors' bus

Now that Town of Bonnyville council has unanimously approved giving $15,000 so the Bonnyville Seniors' Society can purchase a new 26-passenger bus, club members are hopeful they can convince MD of Bonnyville council to do the same.

Now that Town of Bonnyville council has unanimously approved giving $15,000 so the Bonnyville Seniors' Society can purchase a new 26-passenger bus, club members are hopeful they can convince MD of Bonnyville council to do the same.

"We're ecstatic with the Town council's decision, now we just have to convince the MD council," said club president Stella Marcotte, following Monday night's decision by Town councillors.

Several weeks ago, MD council turned down the original request by the Seniors' Society to spend $15,000 towards the purchase of a new bus.

Marcotte said she and the seniors' club board were "very disappointed" by the MD council's decision, but are pleased several members of council and staff have agreed to meet with them to discuss the issue further.

At the time, MD council hinted they rejected the request for funding because it wasn't in their budget for 2011. MD council has passed a draft budget, but has yet to finalize the official budget.

But Marcotte was not buying that excuse after several members of Town council informed her and the seniors' board the MD's budget for 2011 has not been passed and there is ample time for MD council to change its mind.

Considering Town council's $15,000 contribution was contingent on the MD council also approving the same amount of funding, the seniors' club board is going to do everything in its power to have them reconsider their earlier decision, said Marcotte.

"We've been promised a meeting very soon with the MD and I really think we can make them change their mind now that the Town council has supported us," she said. "I sure hope so. There are a lot of seniors in this town and a lot of them are getting up there and really don't want to drive.

"The bus will be used for tours and cultural events and would do a lot of good things for our members, so I'm really hopeful the MD council will have a change of heart."

The provincial government has provided a $35,000 grant to purchase a new bus, while the local club raised $27,000 by hosting the provincial summer games last year, so it has $62,000 waiting in a bank account to purchase the new bus, said Marcotte.

The cost of a brand new bus is $82,000 plus tax, Marcotte said.

If MD council does change its mind and approve $15,000 in funding to match the Town's contribution, the seniors' club would have $92,000 in its account. The additional few dollars would be used to pay for insurance for the first year in operation, she said.

The bus would be used for regular day trips to neighbouring communities, transporting club members to social and cultural events like the senior summer games and to meet the demand to offer more tours for members, said Marcotte.

The club has 12 'fun days' planned in 2011 to visit neighbouring communities and 25 to 30 other events where the bus would need to be used, she told council.

Club members would be charged fees whenever they use the bus, which will be put into a fund to pay for maintenance and repairs in the future, she said.

"We don't want any freebies," she said. "Our members will pay fees so we can take care of all the maintenance and repairs that will be needed for the bus."

When asked by members of Town council about perhaps leasing a bus, Marcotte said the board did its homework and decided that wasn't a good option.

There aren't a lot of options for leasing a bus in this area, it's difficult to secure a bus for events and the $35,000 grant offered by the province would be removed if the club were to lease instead of own the bus, she said.

Coun. Jim Cheverie said he had no trouble spending taxpayer money on the purchase of a bus that will help improve the quality of life for so many local seniors.

"I support any program for kids under age seven and for seniors over 70," said Cheverie.

If the MD council can be convinced to match the Town's $15,000 contribution, Cheverie said the seniors' club will be able to "buy a first-class bus."

Cheverie told Marcotte and Seniors' Society second vice-president Willy McGregor MD council's refusal of their request for funding was not sincere because the MD's 2011 budget has not been finalized.

"How can they say their budget has passed when they don't have any assessment and haven't finalized anything?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't believe them. They are going to make changes before their budget is passed."

Cheverie made one final comment stating it's imperative for the MD council to change its mind on this issue as half the seniors who use the bus come from the MD.

"We really need the MD on board on this," he said.

Mayor Ernie Isley agreed saying he hopes the Town council decision will result in the MD council changing its mind.

"I'm guessing we're putting some additional pressure on the MD I suppose," he said.

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