Logan County Board to discuss finance options for public transportation

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[May 11, 2017]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday, May 9, the Logan County Board Finance Committee held its monthly meeting. The main focus of discussion was financing options for Logan Mason Public Transportation.

Guests at the meeting included Community Action executive director Alison Rumler-Gomez, LMPT transportation director DiAnne Turner, and Community Action board members Andy Anderson and Mike Booher.

Logan County Board Chairman Chuck Ruben provided some background on the financing request. Ruben said Logan Mason Public Transportation had approached the transportation committee because "Community Action can no longer provide the up-front money for this grant or all of the grant as they have been."

Ruben said "They were asking the county about the possibility of the county fronting some of the money. They're willing to maintain the level of service as it was before the flex route" but "they weren't willing to continue the additional funds, which is about $70,000."

Ruben said the county would have to put up additional money to "run operations as they are currently running."

Ruben said the transportation committee sent it to the finance committee "because there's an option to borrow the money [and] essentially front the money for transportation by borrowing it. Then the money borrowed would go to that fund and it would be used to front the money on a revolving basis."

Ruben said, "The interest would be replenishable from the grant." He said, "when the grant would get paid back, they would pay it back including the interest."

Ruben said some of the concerns were about what could happen in the future with county "being on the hook." He said the Transportation Committee sent the issue to the Finance Committee for options.

Ruben said, "What is coming here is the option of either fronting them money out of the county fund or setting up a fund to borrow the money to fund them to continue the program as it is currently done."

Ruben said if the funding cannot be provided, LMPT would just go back to providing the "basic services" such as on-demand transportation. There would not be the flex route.

Andy Anderson, a former Logan County Board member who serves on Community Action's board said, "Things have changed drastically since [the county board] first signed off on the grant with Community Action. For three years or so, Community Action ran it by itself" with no help from the county.

Anderson said, "I was a member of the county board who pretty much dictated to Community Action that we want to start a local route."

Anderson said "Even though there is a grant awarded, everything is an up front cost, and it has become an enormous cost, and Community Action can no longer afford to up front the money by themselves. That is why we are coming to the county board."

Anderson said, "We can do a good portion of it ourselves." He said, "We can handle $80,000-$90,000 of it ourselves, but when it gets to be over $200,000, then we need help."

Anderson said "The bottom line is, without the county board's support, the flex route and everything we have done for the last two-and-a-half years is over with." He said, "There won't be vehicles driving around Lincoln picking people up."
Anderson said it would also mean no service agreements including Head Start rides, no marketing team, no workforce development efforts, and a reduction in workforce.

Anderson said, "Our initial idea behind all this was to grow Lincoln/Logan County and if we go back to where we were six years ago, which is what is going to happen if you do not approve this money," then "we are going to hurt Lincoln and Logan County."

Anderson said that dissolving the flex route program would be "a huge step backwards for Lincoln and Logan County." He said, "When I was on the [Logan County] board, even though I was still on the Community Action board, I did not realize there was this much cost up front."

Anderson said, "We need the county board's help." He said, "It is $120,000," which will keep "rolling over," but you will hopefully eventually get reimbursed by the state.

Finance Committee Chairman David Hepler asked the Community Action representatives, "What would you like us to do?"

Community Action Executive Director Alison Rumler-Gomez said "I think this might be an issue for the full board to consider because we do touch things like the VAC, Logan Mason Rehab, the health department, and Head Start." Rumler Gomez said, "There are so many pieces we touch throughout the two counties, I would hate to see [the issue] die in committee."

Ruben asked Program Compliance Oversight Monitor Brenda Clark what she had been able to find out about the possibility of "a bank loan." He said other counties had done that.

Clark said, "I have found a little bit of information." She said since "we have to go out for bids, so the actual interest amount (would not be known), we can't put a price on (costs) at this point. Last year, we got 1.2 percent interest, but that doesn't mean that is what we would get this year."

Clark said, "With this program, we do have to pay all the expenses upfront and because we have grown the program as the board had requested, those expenses have definitely multiplied."

Clark said, "A line of credit is probably a good basis for working on it. When I have talked with other operators and other providers," they have told me of a couple options. Clark said, banks will either "allow the grantee" or "the operator" to "secure a line of credit." She said, "that is another option we may look at."

Clark said, "The transportation system does help with economic development." She said, "SIU was granted the dental clinic because we had public transportation [and] because we had our city route here in Lincoln. I do not know the repercussions if that city route is pulled and how that will affect the SIU grant to the health department."

Clark said, "We have over 700 regular riders" and "I think you need to look at the underlying independence that this provides for these people." Clark said many rides are to medical appointments, "but also we transport people to work ."

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Clark said, "What you don't understand are that those that are really at risk and at need are the ones who utilize [it]." She said transportation helps "people in the workforce program," and "people that are treated at the mental health centers" and those are "the types of people that we are helping. Those that are disadvantaged."

Clark said, "We have worked really hard to get this up and going. We have gone ahead and implemented your ideas and your requests, and now it's going to be up to you. I hope you go ahead and pass it through, so it does go to the full board because I think the full board needs to make the decision."

Ruben asked what would happen "if we cut back to where we were with just the on-demand program."

Rumler-Gomez said, "Since it's a public transportation program, we really can't differentiate or prioritize people based on the need for their transport, but inevitably that's what happens. If there are people that have no other resources and they are for critical medical appointments, those tend to be the folks that don't have any other options, so those tend to be the folks that we continue to transport."

Rumler-Gomez said, "By the same token, we would not be able to deny someone if they called from home and said 'I need a ride to go to Wendy's today.' We would still be doing that."

Rumler-Gomez said Mason County gets overlooked and only does 30 transports per month and did not meet grant requirements. She said, "We would need to increase ridership there."

Finance committee member Gene Rohlfs said, "We continue to talk about the program and reimbursements." He asked, "Does anyone know about the May 31st deadline for passing an Illinois state budget. He said that if the budget does not pass the state is at junk status.

Rumler-Gomez said resources show "it does not looking likely for them to have a state budget by May 31st." She with transportation, IDOT is taking a position that "they have what's called a rolling appropriation" for needed services. Rumler-Gomez said since the transportation grant is under IDOT, the "rolling appropriation" gives them funding "with or without a state budget."

Rohlfs said, "As long as the federal government comes through with the money, IDOT will come through with the money." He said, I voted for transportation initially, but wondered "how in the world could the federal government afford to blanket this entire country with rural transportation."

Ruben said he was told "it was federal money passing through" but "it was mostly state money."

Rumler-Gomez said, "It is mostly state money," but also said, "the state money could not exist without the existence of the 5311 federal money."

Finance Committee Chairman David Hepler said we had to decide years ago whether to make an "investment" in transportation.

Hepler said health outcomes for the county "have gone from being in the top half of the state to being in the bottom third." He said, "We have a large underclass within Logan County and from what I have seen, CAPCIL is an agency that is trying to address it."

Hepler said, "I am concerned that for a lot of these very vulnerable people, if the service is taken away or cut back, it may cause them to fall back into a spiral that many are in already."

Rumler-Gomez said "Community Action has taken a strategic shift in direction over the last two years." She said, "Not only do we provide rural public transportation, but we made an intentional commitment to helping people who live in poverty not live in poverty anymore."

Rumler-Gomez said, "We are not proponents for giving handouts." She said, we try to help people using our service find a way "out of the situation" through "classes like Jobs for Life" and "Financial Peace University."

Rumler-Gomez, "When talking about rural transportation, I am a proponent of fiscal responsibility." She said, we talk to people about "wise spending, about getting a job, about keeping a job, [and] about not wearing pajamas to work."

Rumler-Gomez said, "We do not want to saddle you with a program you really do not want and if you do want it, I feel like there is a responsibility on the part of the board to support it financially. I donít want to see it fail because of a cash flow problem."

Ruben asked how many riders used the "flex bus" route in the past month.

DiAnne Turner said, "For the month of April, on the flex route by itself, we had 225 riders. Thirty-six of them were general public and 62 were seniors."

Turner said, "What we find is the seniors who don't have vehicles" and use it to get to stores and doctor's offices.

Rohlfs asked about the cost per person.

Turner said, "The net cost per transport is about $25 per person." She said the fare for seniors is $2.50 and for everyone else, it is $3.00.

Ruben asked for more explanation about the cost per rider. He said "taking 225 riders times $25" and costs, would add up to $67,000 per quarter.

Turner said the $25 per person covers the whole transportation programs, not just the flex route.

Hepler asked for a motion to bring funding options forward to the full board.

Ruben said he agreed the whole board should make the decision. Ruben made a motion to take the funding question to the full board.

Hepler said the board chairman would determine what the board actually votes on.

The issue will be brought forward for more discussion at Thursday's (tonight) Board Workshop.

[Angela Reiners]

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