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Burchett Still Under Fire On Budget
By John Disque

tim burchett
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett

john disqueFrom the beginning of the plan for free Senior transportation, KAT has been promoting itself and bragging about its Free Senior rides while the county taxpayers paid $75k a year for this so called free service.

Recently Knoxville Area Transit (KAT) funding for their free senior ride program was cut to $25,000 which will keep the program intact until October 1, 2011. Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett says, ""I don't think it's a vital use of government money. It wouldn't cost them (K.A.T.) a dime more to let the seniors ride for free. The city is getting a free ride off the county taxpayers."

While the budget passed, the mayor is still receiving backlash that just seems to grow with every new repetition of some outdated article by a writer who didn't bother researching anything.

At this point I'm convinced that the backlash is stemming from people that know they'll automatically get support for their heroic stance to defend our seniors. It's easy to do and it's actually become in-style and is a quick and easy way to gain status. You are the voice of the people and the mayor is an evil human that hates old people.

Hubert Smith – "Once again Mayor Burchett showed his ignorance of public transportation."

Charles Winstead - "And seniors? Now being one myself, only worse thing in America than being poor -- being poor and over the hill. People like Mayor Smiley just don't even have an inkling of a clue."

Casey Self – "It's hard for him to know what's going on when he doesn't go to any meetings."

The list of negative feedback grows every day. I think it's dangerous and unfair and maybe it's time to step back and take a better look:

KAT carries over 3.6 million passengers each year.

They get funding from their riders, the City of Knoxville, Knox County Government, the state of TN, the USA federal government and other funding sources. They are managed by Veolia Transportation which manages over 200 transportation systems and is, by far, the biggest transportation management company in North America.

The typical one-way ride on KAT will cost the customer $1.50 but there are several options and discount rates to choose from (for example, you can get a 1-day pass for $4). Their website doesn't explain who is eligible for the discount rates, so I called and the number was busy … all day.

Hubert Smith goes on to mention the mayor's salary and suggests that because the mayor makes $154k he's out of touch with our elderly residents and the lower-income people.

Burchett makes $154k a year – hardly enough to allow him to live in a mansion and play golf all day.

Unaudited and unofficial KAT revenue sources for 2008:
City of Knoxville $7,814,850
State of TN $1,971,310
Federal $3,263,082
Income from fares $3,657,537
Other funding $ 527,258
Total $17,234,037

By far KAT's biggest expense is their full time salaries with the next in line being their fleet expenses and their employee health insurance. They also list an array of administrative and office expenses.

Maybe when KAT makes the claim that seniors ride for free that should really mean – "Free." Doing something out of the goodness of your heart is wonderful but it's also very rare. For KAT to give free rides to seniors in order to promote itself and gouge the taxpayer should be criminal.

Published July 18, 2011, 10:33 p.m.

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