County transit eyeing budget talks

Jul. 27, 2014 @ 01:35 PM

Rutherford County Transportation Services Director Kerry Giles is keeping her eye on Raleigh.

Because the state has not approved its budget, Giles has been forced to augment Rutherford County Transit’s budget because of its reliance on state and federal funding.

The county received nearly $200,000 last year in Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) funds which were used for elderly and disabled transportation ($75,000), employment-based transportation ($28,000) and rural/general public transportation ($95,000) used to provide $1 bus and grocery trips.

Giles has been in a holding pattern because the state has yet to inform transit departments across the state how much, if any, ROAP funds will be available.

In a meeting this week in Hickory, Giles said state officials informed area departments applications for ROAP funding were “forthcoming.”

“Once I get that, I know there will be an allocation for us,” Giles said. “There is no guarantee that there will be that funding until we get the application.”

Because the funding is unknown, transit has stopped approving new elderly and disabled transport applications. The applications will be received but referred to a wait list. Giles said recipients of the service will be limited to three trips per month.

The county is not adding any new dialysis patients. Beginning in August, dialysis patients using Transit are being asked to purchase a $32 per month pass. That is the same for any employment-based transportation.

“We are spending money without any guarantee of getting any funding because we don’t want to cut anyone off,” Giles said. “But we aren’t taking any more applications until we know what our allocation is.”

Transit has also stopped its Monday produce trips but will continue the Thursday service and Friday shuttle to Walmart.

While state funding is of concern, a bigger issue facing Giles is the federal highway trust fund, which is scheduled to be depleted at the end of August.

Transit receives nearly $400,000 per year from the highway trust fund. The money is used to pay for vehicle purchase, radios, training equipment, drug testing, marketing and vehicle insurance. Giles said the county pays for all operational costs through funds generated through transit services.

“I’m very nervous about the highway trust fund,” Giles said. “We have sent joint letters to our elected officials regarding the fund.”

However, even that is in question as the state continues debating over a statewide broker for Medicaid transportation.

Giles said 55 percent of Transit’s revenue comes from Medicaid transports. For fiscal year 2014-15, Giles projected receiving $450,000 in Medicaid transport revenue.

The state has debated over creating a broker for those transports which would force cab companies and county transit to bid against each other for rides. All Medicaid transports are funneled through the county Department of Social Services (DSS) directly to Transit. If Transit is full, DSS will contact local cab companies.

Even with funding uncertainties, Giles said Rutherford County Transit is still fiscally sound.

“We are in very good financial shape and we have our own fund balance,” Giles said. “We are operating extremely efficient. I feel good about where we’re at but I’m keeping a very close eye on things.”