Benjamin Franklin once noted, “If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.” This, apparently, is where Tom Phillips, the executive director of Citrus Connection, Polk County’s public transportation system, has come up short in his dealings with a couple of smaller cities in our community. 

A few weeks back, Phillips went on a quest to convince the elected leaders of 10 Polk cities to live up to their end of “fair share” agreements, whereby they agreed to pay for public bus service for their constituents. 

Theoretically, Polk County pays 80 percent of that cost, through a combination of federal grants and money from its general revenue fund. Per the agreements, the cities were to pay the other 20 percent. 

But during a recent barnstorming tour through Polk, Phillips pointed out to the cities — not including Lakeland, which funds its portion of the bus service through a property tax imposed on its residents — how far short of the goal they were. 

Last year they had paid a combined total of about $208,000 toward a $3.74 million expenditure — or about 5.5 percent. Among the communities in question, Auburndale was the best performer, chipping in 11 percent. Meanwhile, Dundee, Fort Meade and Frostproof paid zilch. 

The effect of this was twofold: first, the county’s diversion of funding to the bus service cheated other county needs; secondly, Lakeland residents, who feed that same county pot, essentially paid twice for the same service, and yet a service they most likely would not use. 

Phillips delivered an ultimatum to the municipalities: cough up your correct share by 2020 or come November Citrus Connection will roll on through your town, leaving your constituents with no bus service. 

Eight of them listened and agreed. Phillips recently told us that each city has committed to begin paying either the whole amount or at least something next year and to plan for a 20 percent match by his stated deadline of 2020. 

That is fantastic, and we applaud them for doing the right thing. 

On the other hand, Eagle Lake and Frostproof have balked at making a change. So far. 

Phillips doesn’t want the whole amount next year, just a show of good faith, as the others have made. It’s a reasonable request. 

A report provided by Phillips shows it costs Citrus Connection nearly $112,000 to serve Eagle Lake, yet the city pays just $5,000. Phillips has asked the city to dole out $10,784 next year en route to reaching the full amount of $22,371 in 2020. 

Frostproof, meanwhile, is being asked to spend $10,610 next year, and to budget almost $31,900 by 2020. It costs Citrus Connection $159,319 a year to serve that community. 

Eagle Lake City Manager Tom Ernharth recently told The Ledger the City Commission has no interest in paying more than the current $5,000. Elected officials in Frostproof have indicated they are split on the issue. 

We can understand that the number of bus passengers in Eagle Lake and Frostproof may be smaller than the other cities, and so leaders in each town might not see the value of Citrus Connection’ service. 

That’s fine. But they should not expect Phillips to keep delivering a service and for other parts of Polk County to subsidize them. Thus, Phillips would be justified in halting bus service in those areas. 

On the other hand, if Eagle Lake and Frostproof want to quit the bus service, they should vote to do so as soon as possible so Phillips can get on with adjusting his budget and his routes, as necessary. 

We hope that’s not the case. We encourage leaders in both cities to consider the needs of public transportation users in their respective communities and agree to Phillips’ request. 

As Ben Franklin might observe, Phillips has failed to win over Eagle Lake and Frostproof intellectually by stressing the unfairness of the current situation. Perhaps before those cities adopt new budgets next month, he or someone else will show them it’s in their interest, or that of their constituents, to partner with Citrus Connection.