Get ready to walk to Wal-Mart
AVON – Jose Vasquez is standing at the bus stop by Wal-Mart with four stuffed grocery bags clenched in his fists and snow blowing in his face.His wife takes their only car to work and he doesn’t have the energy to walk home today. He stands with two other families waiting for the Avon bus, both with shopping carts full of groceries.”You wouldn’t want to walk in this, would you?” he says. “I’m tired. I didn’t even want to shop today.”Starting in May, Vasquez will have to find another way to get home with his groceries, or start shopping at City Market. Avon will likely cancel bus stops at Wal-Mart and Buffalo Ridge, an affordable housing complex north of Interstate 70.Town councilors say they know the stops are highly used and even depended on, but the money isn’t there. They blame the shortfall on Traer Creek Metropolitan District, the entity responsible for building roads and funding basic services such as snow plowing, police and fire protection at the Village at Avon, which includes Buffalo Ridge.The town believes the metro district should feel obligated to pay for bus service to the Village at Avon and condemns the district for not footing the bill. “Our hand is being forced,” Councilman Brian Sipes said.The metro district says there is no such obligation. President Dan Leary says the metro district will pay for bus service only when it requests it from the town. So far, that request hasn’t been made.”The town decided to start the service on its own initiative. Apparently it was an untimely decision,” Leary said.Wal-Mart is still on the countys bus route.
Despite who’s responsible for the bill, many people have come to depend on those stops at Wal-Mart and Buffalo Ridge, said Bob Reed, head of Avon’s transportation department.Wal-Mart quickly became the most popular stop in Avon, with more than 56,500 people boarding or unloading there in the past year.There’s only a limited pool of riders at Buffalo Ridge, but Reed said a large number of residents use the bus and depend on it to get to work. Many people had called and written letters to Reed asking for a bus stop.”It’s sad to see the routes go, especially at Buffalo Ridge,” Reed said. “They need it there as much as anybody else.”Town Manager Larry Brooks said the past year proves that people use and need those bus stops and that it was “unconscionable” that the metro district hasn’t started paying yet.”The town was hopeful that once they saw how many passengers it was moving, they would help out,” Brooks said. “Legally, they don’t have to. But when are they going to believe it’s justified?”
The debate over buses has been a long one. Avon wanted the metro district to pay for bus service to the Village at Avon when it started last June, but the metro district didn’t think bus service was necessary, at least not yet. The district agreed to consider a funding a route when more people move into the area and when more businesses are paying taxes. The town council decided to start service anyway and pay the bill.Leary said it’s misleading to suggest that the metro district hasn’t been paying its way.”Each year we already pay more than $1 million dollars to the town,” Leary said. “About 60 percent of that is for police and street maintenance services rendered to the Village, and about 40 percent of it is for the retail sales tax shortfall at the old Wal-Mart site.” He also said it makes no sense to suggest that the metro district has a moral obligation to fund what he calls an “unsustainable bus service.”Avon doesn’t buy it. Mayor Ron Wolfe said the metro district could easily raise the sales fee for the Village at Avon, which could be used to fund transportation.The sales fee at the Village is currently 4 percent. Brooks said an increase of .5 percent, or 50 cents for every 100 dollars of groceries at Wal-Mart, could be enough to fund transportation.Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or firstname.lastname@example.org.