Bowling Green city commissioners Tuesday heard presentations regarding studies on two much-discussed issues in the city – transit and housing.

The end of Tuesday’s regular city commission meeting featured a work session where the studies were presented and discussed.

The yearlong transit study was designed to look at possible changes to the way the city uses federal transit funds, as well as a possible merger of the GO bg system with Topper Transit at Western Kentucky University.

Last year, the Bowling Green-Warren County Metropolitan Planning Organization approved spending $125,000 for a study by Pittsburgh-based Michael Baker International to analyze transit options. Since 2003, the city has contracted with Community Action of Southern Kentucky to operate the GO bg system.

The study fell short of outright recommending a merger but strongly suggested there were opportunities to improve transit in the city through greater cooperation and perhaps some sort of joint management.

“From a business point of view, (a merger) makes all the sense in the world,” Michael Baker International’s Toby Fauver said. “But there are always challenges.”

Issues that surround a potential merger include funding, variable rate structures (Topper Transit is free to ride, GO bg charges fares) and equipment and technology differences.

The study recommended that the city have greater oversight of the GO bg system. City officials’ dissatisfaction with Community Action’s administration of the transit system by the agency’s previous leadership, which led to accounting issues and a decrease in ridership, was one of the reasons the study was commissioned.

The study also recommended setting goals, objectives and expectations for transit services; developing a new service plan for GO bg; improving coordination between Topper Transit and GO bg; and considering joint marketing and branding of the two services, with a single website and fare structure.

Fauver said the two services “should be working together,” even if there is no merger.

Brent Childers, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, said city officials don’t have the expertise to run a transit system and suggested the city contract with a transit management firm, such as the one that runs Topper Transit, that better knows the industry “to really build the transit system of the future for the city of Bowling Green.”

City commissioners gave Childers approval to begin drafting a request for proposals for a transit manager.

Earlier in the meeting, Community Action was approved to run GO bg transit for fiscal year 2020. Community Action was the only respondent when the city advertised for requests for proposals to operate the system.

Commissioners also had a lengthy discussion regarding a housing analysis done for the city by Bowen National Research.

The 200-page study was designed to help the city understand “what do we need moving forward” in terms of housing, Childers said.

Among the findings of the study was that:

• more than 45 percent of renter-occupied households in the city are considered cost-burdened by federal standards (pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing) and 25 percent are severely cost-burdened (pay more than 25 percent of their income toward housing).

• the city should see continued growth in households, especially in terms of seniors and those ages 35-44.

• more than 15,000 people, and more than a quarter of children, in the city live below the poverty level.

The data show a “serious, pent-up demand for more affordable housing” in the city, Bowen National Research President Patrick Bowen said.

A survey of more than 900 local residents was part of the study, and the participants reported a demand for more lower-cost apartments and homes costing less than $150,000.

“This is a challenge,” Bowen said, but he added that the issue is also driven by the city’s rapid growth. “There are a lot of good reasons developers should want to come to Bowling Green ... there are a lot of opportunities.”

Childers said the study will now be used to enhance the city’s neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing efforts, and to further discussion regarding solutions.

“This is about educating the marketplace, educating the community,” he said.

Also Tuesday, commissioners:

• approved a $1,243,320 bid from Lanham Brothers General Contractors of Owensboro for construction of a police evidence storage building. The 8,900-square-foot building would be at East 10th Avenue and Adams Street in a portion of the parking lot at police headquarters.

The vote was preceded by a lengthy discussion concerning the project’s price tag.

Bowling Green Police Chief Doug Hawkins said the department “is out of space” when it comes to storing large pieces of evidence and vehicles, and the city negotiated the price down as much as possible.

The three bids exceeded the city’s expectations, apparently the result of a strong market for construction companies.

“We are the victims of prosperity,” Commissioner Sue Parrigin said.

The bid was approved 4-1, with Commissioners Joe Denning, Brian “Slim” Nash, Dana Beasley-Brown and Parrigin voting yes and Mayor Bruce Wilkerson voting no.

• approved city funding for various agencies that provide community services, including:

$125,000 for the Bowling Green Economic Development Authority.

$75,000 for the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission.

$75,000 for the Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force.

$95,070 for the Bowling Green-Warren County Humane Society.

$58,195 for the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport.

$50,000 for the Bowling Green-Warren County Welfare Center.

$481,000 for the City-County Planning Commission.

$59,250 for the Hobson House Commission.

$33,440 for Operation PRIDE.

$50,000 for United Way of Southern Kentucky’s 2-1-1 service.

– Follow News Director Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.

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Wes Swietek is the Bowling Green Daily News News Director.

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