Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The good news: revenue from fees on the Sauk Rail Trail is on the climb.

The bad news: many users still aren’t paying their fees.

One way to get about correcting this is something we’re doing here at The Daily Times Herald as part of our holiday package for full-time employees — providing annual permits for use of the trail.

The cost is $13 per person for businesses with 5 to 50 employees (we’re at 22 FTE). And the cost for businesses over 50 employees is $12 per person.

The regular cost is $15 per person. Youth 17 and under are free.

Providing these passes has a dual benefit: you help your county and your bottom line by encouraging exercise. All of this dovetails nicely with a push by Mayor-elect Adam Schweers to link Carroll with a national “blue zones” health initiative.

So far, in 2011, fees collected on the Sauk Trail stand at $7,972.50 — a 40 percent increase over all of 2010 when the revenue came in at $5,478. Seventy-five percent of the money collected on the trail — which runs from Carroll to Lake View — goes to Carroll County with 25 percent going to Sac County.

Carroll County Conservation director Mark River said the full hard-surfacing of the trail clearly made a difference.

What’s more, Carroll County Conservation is more aggressively pursuing users to check for passes — although those who are found without them are given a friendly reminder, not assessed a fine.

“You hear all kinds of excuses,” River said. “Some are legit. Some might not be.”

Carroll County Supervisor Mark Beardmore has recommended a “fix it” ticket that would require users caught without a day or annual pass to pay the $15 for an annual pass.

Technically, a person found without a pass on the trail is guilty of a simple misdemeanor and can be fined a maximum of $100 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Tossing someone in jail for walking his dog on the trail without a pass is the very definition of overkill. No one is suggesting that. And $100 is too steep.

But we are on record as supporting some fine beyond the “fix it” concept — say $30.

Longer term, we are encouraged by Schweers’ plans for developing an intra-city trail system to connect points of commerce, education and interest in Carroll with the Sauk. He’s eyeing a variety of grants and state and federal funding sources. We’d like to see this effort continue.

Our advice here is to move as much as possible with off-street trails. This isn’t bicycle-friendly Boulder, Colo., or Portland, Ore., and we aren’t convinced motorists in Carroll County can adapt to mixed-use lanes, even ones that are well-marked.

An example: this past March, I was in San Luis Obispo, Calif., headed down a one-way street to visit the historic Spanish mission. I was in a right turning lane that fed the mission and had a green light. I turned right and nearly hit a bicyclist in a right bike lane that ran adjacent to the road.

I felt terrible. But that’s just not an element I expected to encounter in driving — having to look right, past your passenger side, to a right lane to see if a bike headed in the same direction as you is in your path.

And I’ve spent a lot of time in Boulder.

The experience affirmed my belief that Carroll should move with off-street trails, even if we have to phase them in over a period of years at a higher cost.

Having mothers with strollers and kids on bikes with nothing but a painted line separating them from cars and trucks seems to be a cost-cutting measure that we could end up paying for in blood.

*****

The New York Times interviewed Chuck Walsh of Carroll for a piece this past weekend on GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. Prediction: look for the comments made by Paul supporter Walsh — a military veteran — to appear in Paul campaign material. Walsh offers a compelling counter-argument to those who say support of Paul is futile.

Here is The Times section on Walsh from the article published this past Saturday.

Chuck Walsh, who works for his family’s G.M.-Toyota dealership in Carroll, Iowa, is a recent convert to Mr. Paul.

“I don’t think I was his core type, the young college type,” said Mr. Walsh, 42, a volunteer firefighter and veteran of the Persian Gulf war. He voted for Mr. Romney in 2008 and was leaning toward him again this year, but he changed his mind because the federal government, he said, needs more drastic cuts than Mr. Romney proposes.

Mr. Walsh felt squeamish coming out as a Paul supporter. “The reaction is, ‘Oh, the guy is fringe, he’s crazy,’ “ he said. “People tell me, ‘You’re throwing away your vote.’ I said to myself: ‘Chuck, you wore the uniform, you fought for the right to vote. If you’re voting with your heart, I don’t think you’re throwing away your vote.’ “