A few of the buses and a van parked operated by Northwoods Transit Connections behind the Stevens Street office building 
occupied by NTC.
A few of the buses and a van parked operated by Northwoods Transit Connections behind the Stevens Street office building occupied by NTC.
It’s been in operation for nearly three full years now, but the Oneida and Vilas Transit Commission, which oversees Rhinelander-based Northwoods Transit Connections, still doesn’t have an indoor storage facility in Rhinelander for most of its 15 buses and vans. 

Aside from a garage in Eagle River it has leased through April 2019, which is home for two NTC buses and a van, the organization still has no storage facility for most of the rest of its fleet.

Last Friday, OVT commission members took action that may change that by authorizing NTC manager Roger Youngren to rent a building if everything checks out. 

Budget numbers for 2019 had been gone over early in the meeting and the commission heard about expansion of routes that will take effect after Jan. 1, 2019, items that were, overall, good news; despite glitches and delays in the state and federal government grant process that helps fund NTC, the route expansions were seen as a sign of continued, overall advancement and growth in the organization. 

Later on the agenda was an item also involving the 2019 budget — an update on bus storage in Rhinelander.

Brand new information

Youngren told the commission he had, in the day or two previous, heard information regarding a vacant building for sale near the intersection of Stevens Street and State Highway 17. 

At one time, it was a Mazda dealership. 

Youngren said he and Mott looked at the building and didn’t originally think the buses could be driven through the single garage entrance for the building. 

“It turns out, we can get the buses in there,” Youngren said. 

NTC could lease the entire building for $500 per month, plus utilities. 

Youngren acknowledged the building was “rough” but had a bus in the facility the day before and did some measuring.

“If we drive them straight in, we could probably get seven buses in there,” he said.

Commission chairman Erv Teichmiller asked if there was a month-to-month arrangement. 

“We don’t have anything, currently,” Youngren said. “This is brand new information. I was just over there yesterday.”

He said he believed there needed to be more research done and had called Wisconsin Public Service to get an idea of utility cost.

In January 2016, the gas bill for the building was $400 and electric was $950. 

That drew some laughter. 

“There’s the good news and the bad news,” Mott said. 

Youngren said the next month, the electric bill was $500.

“So, I don’t know if it was something they were doing in the shop with tools and lifts and all that kind of thing,” he said. 

There’s one lift in the building’s shop area but it was said to not be operational and wouldn’t be able to handle an NTC bus.

Youngren said he needed to follow up with the realtor on the condition of the building.

“The heating system, the cooling system ... it’s been vacant about a year and half,” he said.

Budgeted or not? 

Teichmiller told Youngren to go ahead and look the building over some more because it was budgeted.

“We’ve got money set aside for that, I assume?” he asked, looking at Pat Daoust, manager of Bay Area Rural Transit in Ashland. 

Daoust was brought in earlier this year to help with a transition between former NTC manager Jim Altenberg and Youngren and helped formulate the 2019 NTC budget. 

“No, we just put in the budget that ... it’s new,” Daoust said. “We didn’t know about it then.”

Mott said there had been discussion about bus storage. 

Daoust acknowledged there was $12,000 in the budget that included rental expense for the building NTC was based out of on Stevens Street as well as the garage NTC rents in Eagle River. 

Teichmiller again directed Youngren to look into the building further. 

“If we’re just going to store, that’s one thing,” he said. “If we’re hoping to do maintenance, that’s another. If there’s no money to do it, I don’t know how you do it.”

Daoust said there might be other budget line items to look at to pull money from.

On the radar

Mott said it seemed to him it was imperative this year to get the buses out of the cold and snow when they weren’t being used. 

“Have a place to service them,” he said. “In my mind, that was one of the things we started on and when Roger started, he was looking right away for it. I think we need to find a way to do it.”

Teichmiller brought up the possibility for NTC to use a bay at Headwaters to do maintenance. 

Youngren said those discussions were continuing but there were liability concerns. 

Regarding the bus storage issue, Teichmiller said Mott was correct. 

“We’ve talked about this almost from the get-go,” he said. “Particularly now that we’ve brought on a mechanic who has to do this stuff outside in the cold. We really need a place to go. That continues.”

Daoust said it wasn’t a matter of no attempt to budget for bus storage. 

“Unfortunately, when you have your routes and expenses that come with the routes, those come first,” he said. “Everything else comes after the fact.”

Teichmiller said it needed to stay “on the radar” and be worked on.

“Yep,” commission member Ed Hammer said. “Keep looking.”

“Well, is another month going to go by and the buses are going to sit outside and there’s no place to work on them?” Mott asked. 

“I don’t know that there’s anything else we can do at this point,” Hammer said. 

Mott suggested giving Youngren authorization to go ahead with the building rental, provided it meets the needs of NTC.

“At least for the storage, you’re talking about?” Youngren asked. 

“At least for the storage,” Mott replied.

Teichmiller interjected. 

“Conceptually, yes,” he said. “Fiscally, no. We have no money for that unless you can come up with some changes in the budget.”

Youngren said more money for bus storage could be a possibility — if a grant application he submitted to Nicolet College for $10,000 comes through. 

Teichmiller asked if it was a one year lease.

“I haven’t gotten that far,” Youngren said. 

“I would think it would be month to month,” Teichmiller said. 

Commission member Steven Schreier said there are still a lot of unknowns.

“I would look into it, definitely,” he said. “But find out particulars. What’s the utilities gonna run us and can we heat just a designated area for sure.”

Authorization granted

After a brief pause, Teichmiller was ready to move on but Mott interrupted. 

“So, wait a minute,” he said. “We’re not gonna give authorization if it’s found in the budget?” he asked. 

Teichmiller said the commission didn’t authorize use of the Eagle River facility. 

“Yeah, you did,” Youngren said.

“There was a motion for that?” Teichmiller asked. “Get a motion then.”

Mott made the motion to grant authorization for Youngren to proceed if the building was found to be adequate for storage and repair uses by NTC and money in the budget was found to do so for the next six months. 

Teichmiller asked if there was any discussion on Mott’s motion. 

Commission member Chuck Hayes asked if that included utility cost. 

Snow removal cost was also mentioned.

Mott said he was “absolutely confused” because the commission had started looking at the bus storage issue in the September-October time frame.

“We said we had to get the buses out of the weather,” he said. “We have to find a new place for the mechanic and now, it’s like a new topic today. I don’t get it.”

“That’s a good point,” Teichmiller said. 

Mott continued. 

“I thought it was a priority item for this year because it’s better to get those buses out (of there) ... I thought that was accepted we were going to do that,” he said. “Now, it’s like, ‘Well, we don’t have enough money. Let’s put it off.’”

Daoust said as the budget was being put together, it wasn’t that bus storage wasn’t important.

“We cut,” he said. “We cut maintenance by just over $10,000 in 2019,” he said. “We made cuts where we could to do an increase to $12,000 for the rent and also maintaining what we needed for the routes.”

Youngren said  much of it came down to not being able to find a suitable building. 

Before Teichmiller eventually called for a vote, he thanked Youngren for being proactive in finding a facility. 

“This has been an endless task,” he said.

The vote was unanimous.  

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.