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Kanidyohi Area Transit is adding final touches to plan that adds new route in New London and Spicer

WILLMAR -- Plans are being put in place to start a new bus route to exclusively serve the New London and Spicer communities.

John Groothuis, transit director for the Kandiyohi Area Transit, said Tuesday that a $110,000 state grant has been awarded to expand the county system.

The new service is expected to start next spring.

KAT buses already provide rides in the northern part of the county, but the new bus would be dedicated solely for residents in and around the two communities, Groothuis said. The bus would be part of the KAT fleet -- headquartered in Willmar -- but would be stored in New London or Spicer.

Groothuis said the service could be used to transport residents back and forth between the two towns for work, clinic appointments, community education classes and summer recreation events. The buses could also be accessed by elderly residents at Glen Oaks. The bus will likely make at least one trip to Willmar each day.

"This will be a whole new way of doing business out there," Groothuis said. "It's like a separate little system onto itself," he told the KAT operations board during their regular meeting.

KAT had been exploring the expansion for some time but the announcement of the grant late last week was a welcome surprise

Along with the state funds -- made available because of a shift in funds from the Minnesota vehicle sales tax -- KAT will provide a 15 percent match. That money will come from reserves, fares and participating agencies. Groothuis said KAT will make requests for financial contributions from New London or Spicer to help offset capital costs.

The bus is expected to cost slightly more than $60,000. The remainder of the grant would be used for operating expenses. Given the tight economic times, Groothuis said KAT was very fortunate to receive funding to expand the transit system.

He said the bus will provide a needed se-rvice for the community.

Details to how the route will be run will be worked out over the winter.

In other news, the board agreed not to decrease the out-of-pocket expense employees pay for family health insurance for 2009. The board will recommend to the joint powers board that the monthly premium remain at $67. The defeated proposal would've decreased the amount by $10 a month.

Groothuis said employee salary increases won't make up for increases in the family health insurance premium costs which means employees are losing money.

In 2008, employees had no out-of-pocket expense for single or family health insurance coverage. The premiums are expected to increase 34 percent in 2009.

Groothuis said he was concerned that if that trend continued year after year it would negatively affect employees. Decreasing the premiums would not have changed the line item budgeted because KAT budgets for all 13 full-time employees but only 11 participate in the plan. There are eight employees under the family health insurance plan.

Board member Chad Christianson said that given the economy, the $67 a month premiums were not "out of line" and that very few private businesses offer that kind of coverage for family plans. He said it was never the intention of KAT to provide 100 percent paid coverage for family insurance plans.

The board also agreed to extend the evening cab service to six miles from the Willmar city limits, which includes the towns of Kandiyohi and Pennock. The $3 one-way fare will be the same as rides provided in the Willmar city limits.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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