Local News

Transit system turning down stimulus cash

Finney County Transit won't be accepting a majority of the $1.71 million it received earlier this year.

Date: 9/23/2009

Posted by Finney County Transit on 11/17/2009


Author:    Stephanie Farley

sfarley@gctelegram.com

Finney County Transit won't be accepting a majority of the $1.71 million it received earlier this year in stimulus money from the Kansas Department of Transportation through the government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Finney County Transit (FIT) Director Bonnie Burgardt said uncertain reporting requirements, as well as concern by FIT and its governing board, the Finney County Committee on Aging, and the city of Garden City and Finney County led to the Committee on Aging turning down the funds. FIT receives funding from the city and county for City Link and Mini Bus transit services, respectively.

FIT still will receive 12 new 20-passenger buses -- at an estimated cost of $840,000 -- through the funding. The difference, Burgardt said, is KDOT will take on the responsibilities of payment and reporting requirements for the buses.

The Committee on Aging and FIT don't have the reserve funds, Burgardt said, to pay about $7,500 for loan fees and other costs associated with a $250,000 line of credit to cover some of the planned projects until they are reimbursed with stimulus money. Unlike the 12 buses being paid by KDOT through the recovery act, FIT and the Committee on Aging would pay for portions or all of a project and then wait for reimbursement. But there are no funds to tide the entities over until the reimbursement comes.

The original $1.71 million covered about $840,000 for 12 wheelchair-accessible and equipped buses; $270,000 for bus stops and shelters in the city and Finney County; $75,000 for facility equipment, including the fire sprinkler system and generator; and $525,000 for an addition to the transit center, 1008 N. 11th St., to hold the buses.

FIT already had opted not to add on to the transit center -- the decision came after the Finney County Commission cut the Committee on Aging's budget by $32,000 for 2010. Before the cut, Burgardt initially thought the increased insurance and utility costs from adding on would be affordable. But the cut, along with the senior center and FIT, which the Committee on Aging oversees, having virtually no reserve funds to pull from makes paying the increased costs from the building addition not feasible.

The committee also was reluctant to take on the funds and reporting requirements when the city and county also were hesitant about the venture, Burgardt said.

County commissioners opted not to associate the county with any of the stimulus funds awarded to FIT after county auditors with Lewis, Hooper and Dick accounting firm advised against fronting the money because it could open up additional audit requirements, booking and reporting requirements.

City commissioners also held off on a request by FIT to front the $270,000 cost for bus stops and shelters -- covered in the funding -- and then be reimbursed. Like the county, the City Commission and city staff were concerned about the ambiguity of reporting requirements with the stimulus money, as well as concern with additional auditing requirements. Lewis, Hooper and Dick accounting firm also is the city's auditor.

Burgardt said information she received during a Kansas Public Transportation Association meeting this month also pointed the board and FIT toward walking away from the stimulus funds.

Burgardt said a speaker at the meeting, Richard Garrity, with RLS & Associates of Dayton, Ohio, told Burgardt that for the amount of funding the city would receive for the bus stops and shelters and the unknown and possibly extensive reporting requirements, he could understand why the entity was being cautioned about taking the funds.

Burgardt said Garrity spoke on how the transparency portion of the recovery act could leave reporting requirements open for how long entities receiving and using stimulus money must report or how much they have to report. Garrity also said how entities handle the stimulus money could jeopardize future federal funding they could receive.

Burgardt said the committee also was concerned there's no money available in the future for maintenance of the additional equipment and infrastructure the stimulus money would cover.

"We're saddened we're not going to accept," Burgardt said of the funding.

But, she said, the city plans to leave the bus stops and shelters in its Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) process. Before the stimulus funds were awarded, the city already had planned to install several shelters a year until complete.

Burgardt said FIT plans to get rid of some of the buses the new vehicles will replace -- possibly by selling or leasing the buses to counties without public transit vehicles. With the new vehicles, Burgardt plans to have backup buses for all four City Link routes and a couple of backup buses for Mini Bus.

If there's money left over in the budget at the end of the year, Burgardt plans to possibly purchase another wash bay curtain and washer so the facility could wash the additional buses in a timely manner.