By Bill Taylor
It seems to me that one of the results of my having written hundreds of opinion columns on all sorts of topics over the past decade or so is some that readers figure I have an opinion on every subject. I suppose such a thought was in the mind of a young lady who recently asked me for my opinion on the public transportation system here in our county. Well, I sure came a cropper on that one.
For you youngsters out there the old-time saying to “come a cropper” is derived from a term for the rear end of a horse, the section of a horse’s anatomy which tends to become highly visible when a rider falls and thus originally referred to a spectacular fall from a horse. In time the term to “come a cropper” came to be used to described a rather striking failure. Betcha didn’t know that. Anyway I had to tell her I didn’t have an opinion because I didn’t know enough about the subject.
With that sort of challenge I simply had to look into the matter — and the more I dug in, the more I kept saying to myself, “I didn’t know that.”
Most of us have likely seen the buses around the county with the logo “Greene CATS Public Transit” on them. Frankly I haven’t paid much attention to them except to kinda wonder what the “CATS” acronym stood for — so that was one of the first questions I wanted to answer. As it turns out the name CATS goes back to 2001 when an organization originally called the “Greene County Coordinated Agency Transportation System” (Greene CATS) was formed. There’s no way I could have guessed that as the source of “CATS.” Anyway, the reasoning behind putting this organization together was to “bring together transportation providers serving the residents of Greene County into a coordinated transportation system that would serve the growing need to provide accessible and affordable transportation options for the disabled, elderly, and low income individuals that are unable to drive their own vehicles.” (Source: Greene CATS Executive Director, Ken Collier) Sounds pretty good and makes sense, right? A county agency using local tax dollars to provide transportation for our citizens who need it — except that isn’t the case. There are NO local tax dollars specified in the County budget designated to support this outfit familiarly known hereabouts as CATS — that’s right! No local tax dollars at all and CATS is NOT a county agency or office, technically. I didn’t know that. In fact, although the CATS office is in the large county office complex on Ledbetter Road in the south end of Xenia, our county seat, CATS pays rent to the county for the office space and also pays the county for its telephone service.
The County does however provide legal, human resource and other services at no cost to CATS. I sure didn’t know that. OK, so if CATS isn’t a county office or agency, what is it? It’s a non-profit public agency organization that operates in what is sometimes known as a “quasi” government manner. The term “quasi” means “kinda like but not exactly the same as.” CATS comes under the Greene County Transit Board, a seven member board appointed by the Greene County Commissioners. Every-day operations, however, are run by an executive director and a small staff who come under the Ohio Public Employees System (PERS) and are paid through the transit board — but they are not county employees as such. Sounds kind of unusual, so why this organizational structure? Plain and simple, it’s a matter of money.
As a coordinated agency under the transit board, created by the county commissioners, CATS is eligible to receive federal funds to provide transportation to the public at large. The transit board is the designated direct recipient, as designated by the Greene County Commissioners, of Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) urban transit funding for Greene County and this funding supports CATS. These dollars started at $800,000 annually and grew to $1,300,000 in 2014. Wow! I didn’t know that. You know, folks, here is another example of a home-grown organization that was formed to meet the needs of our local citizens. It has continued to evolve through the years to the place where it not only provides transportation for the disabled and elderly but also the public in general — that’s where the “Public Transit” wording on the buses comes from - something else I didn’t know.
Next time I’ll share more surprising stuff about CATS - the services offered, the costs and such. You know, I admitted ignorance when I was asked my opinion about our county’s public transportation and that’s okay. Something I do know, however, is that ignorance can be remedied by the acquisition of knowledge and that’s what this little effort is all about — dispelling ignorance about CATS for me and for you readers. At least that’s how it seems to me.
(Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .)