MnDOT pushing to merge Mower’s AMCAT with Steele, Freeborn counties

Published 3:29 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Austin’s fleet of buses known as AMCAT could be driving toward some changes.

County officials talked Tuesday about the Minnesota Department of Transportation looking to merge transit systems in Mower, Steele and Freeborn counties in an effort to consolidate and save money.

“Financially, they’re trying to push you in that direction,” county coordinator Craig Oscarson told the board during its regular meeting.

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Tom Dankert, the city of Austin’s finance director, said AMCAT officials have only met once concerning the merger, with another meeting set up next month. According to Dankert, MnDOT officials are pushing for partnership to stay ahead of fast-moving transportation trends.

“They believe in the next 10 years there will be massive transportation changes in Minnesota,” he said.

The Mower County Board and the city of Austin would have to approve the merger, and county officials said they don’t yet know how the merged transit authority would affect service. They also didn’t know if staying on their own would affect funding.

“There’s a lot of unknowns yet,” chairman Jerry Reinartz said, noting it’s still in the early stages.

The state currently funds 85 percent of AMCAT and the other 15 percent is paid through rider fees, according to county officials. Both city and county officials say continued support from MnDOT is necessary, as neither the city nor the county wish to set aside taxpayer dollars from other projects for AMCAT.

The county used to pay more than $100,000 for AMCAT each year, but was about to cut it from the budget when the board started partnering with the city. The partnership later secured more state funding.

County officials said they’ve been pleased with AMCAT since joining forces with the city.

“This one’s been operating efficiently,” Reinartz said.

Oscarson said the state’s goal is to merge the three transit authorities by the end of the year or in early 2014.

AMCAT, which offers rides to 60,000 to 70,000 people per year, is available to the public and serves all of Austin, Mapleview and the rural edges of city limits.

—Matt Peterson contributed to this report.