For 32 years, BettiJean Olson of Lincoln has been a professional cleaner in Bismarck.

She arrives at the Provident Building at 3 p.m. Then, at 6 p.m., she sets to work on the downtown Bismarck Wells Fargo building, scrubbing away until midnight.

But upcoming changes have Olson wondering whether she’ll be able to continue what has been her life’s work.

To get to work Olson relies on Bismarck’s paratransit bus - a service that, without funding, is set to end its offerings to her home in Lincoln at the end of the year.

The city of Lincoln has so far failed to raise the roughly $20,000 Bis-Man Transit says it needs to continue paratransit service to the small community south of Bismarck.

“They can’t just cut us off,” Olson said.

Residents, both elderly and disabled, would not be able to make doctor’s appointments, shop for groceries and could lose their jobs.

A special election vote that would have set aside two mills, amounting to about $20 more for residents per year in property taxes, for the bus failed earlier this year. With only 148 voters turning out, citizens voted against the extra property taxes 44 to 104. City councilman Tom Volk said the city has also sought grants to cover the cost without any luck so far. And the council members are soliciting bids from other service providers to see if they can’t get a lower price.

Olson started riding transit in 2011. Before that it was a service she hadn’t expected she’d need.

“In my 20s and 30s I never knew I'd be in the shape I am now,” she said.

Olson says she was a victim of domestic violence in which she was hit with a car and pinched between two vehicles, an incident that broke her knee. She can’t easily bend it anymore.

“It's really hard to drive,” she said, adding that it’s especially difficult to switch from the gas to the brake. “It's just not safe to drive that way.”

Olson says an accident like hers could happen to anybody and she’s not sure people realize it. Lincoln is also an aging community, with residents who have made it their home for decades that will also one day benefit from not having to drive.

“People maybe didn’t think ahead,” Olson said.

From July 1 through Sept. 30, paratransit provided 395 rides to and from Lincoln, which has a population of nearly 3,700 according to 2016 Census data.  Bis-Man Transit Executive Director Roy Rickert said 15 riders used the service, with two of those riders using the bus to commute to work accounting for more than half the rides taken.

Olson said she often finds herself on the bus with an older woman who takes it to go shopping or the doctor. There’s a man who rides it to work at the north Wal-Mart and another man, who lives outside the city limits, that has his caretaker drop him off at the Tumbleweed Bar before catching the bus to work at Dan’s Supermarket.

Because of the low volume of riders and the time it takes to get to the community, efficiencies are lost and Rickert says it costs $42,400 annually to serve the community. Transit has asked the city to chip in funds for about half, in addition to the $6 per round trip riders pay to use the service.

Lincoln has not been asked to help cover costs previously and Volk said, for the cash-strapped town it's a big expense. Bismarck-Mandan contributes $1.2 million annually to fund its portion of services.

The regular Capital Area Transit bus doesn't have a route through Lincoln. For Olson to take a taxi it would cost about $21 each way, $42 per day. Olson said she would have to take on another three hours of work to cover it. And late work hours could make carpooling difficult.

Olson said others have asked her why doesn’t she just move. But Olson has made Lincoln her home since 1988.

“I’m comfortable,” she said. “I’m making it by myself out here.”

She lives on her own and her house is nearly paid off. Also, with Lincoln’s lower housing costs, she could not afford what it would require to buy a new home in Bismarck.

“There’s got to be something that can be done,” Olson said, adding that she wonders how it has worked for so many years prior without issue.

Also, letting any type of service slip away is moving backward in what she sees as a progressive city.

But Lincoln, like other communities in the state, is struggling with a greatly reduced budget and large infrastructure needs. Volk said they are also needing to pay for lagoon repairs, a new water line to avoid water shortages, a public works shop and equipment for snow removal and jetting out sewer lines on a more regular basis, as well as street repairs.

“We had expected a yes vote (on the mill levy),” Volk said. “This leaves us in a hard place.”

Rickert said he is happy to help the city with grant writing in whatever way he can.

The council is expected to discuss the issue further at its Nov. 9 meeting.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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