Transportation program strapped with losses

By Nick Blank
Posted 10/10/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Council on Aging of Clay County is mulling cuts of operating its transportation services to make up for a revenue shortfall, Council board member Wendell Davis told county …

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Transportation program strapped with losses

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Council on Aging of Clay County is mulling cuts of operating its transportation services to make up for a revenue shortfall, Council board member Wendell Davis told county commissioners Tuesday.

Davis, a former Clay County commissioner, said the board needed to be reimbursed for fuel to stay in operation for the next few weeks. Commissioners agreed to the request, but asked questions about the financial difficulties of the board. Options include decreasing the number of routes and decreasing drivers or staff.

The Council on Aging operates Clay Transit, on a contract that ends in 2021, with a ridership of about 3,500 a month. The Council board will meet Oct at 9 a.m. to discuss a plan to bring before when county commissioners meet Oct. 23. Davis said the council needed a “tourniquet” to stop the bleeding and would have more information by Tuesday.

“We’ll see where we are on Tuesday and give you whatever information at that point in time and see if we can put a plan together,” Davis said.

A major issue with the Council of Aging is meeting the payroll and the cost operating some routes to continue transportation services. Clay County Auditor Mike Price said he hadn’t had the opportunity to conduct a full cash flow analysis of the transportation, but the losses totaled about $15,000 a month.

“Those cash savings [from cuts] are going to accumulate over time. They’re not going to happen overnight. Getting them through this crunch would require some external assistance,” Price said. “($15,000) would need to be the minimum amount of cash needed to be infused to make sure they could make payroll without borrowing between funds or anything else, but that could rise to $20,000-$25,000 a month.”

In a preliminary estimate, Price said slashing all flex lines would save the council more than $700,000 in salaries, benefits and van expenses, though it would lose $365,000 in revenue.

Council on Aging Executive Director Al Rizer told BCC members he wanted to make sure other council funds weren’t impacted by the losses and the transportation services saw a decline in revenue. Rizer told commissioners in May that losses totaled about $200,000 in 2017, and a report given at the May 22 meeting said the organization needed about $650,000 from the county’s general fund to maintain services for another year.

“It’s very clear the problem is transportation,” Rizer said. “It’s the lack of revenue compared to what we’ve gotten in the past.”

Davis and Rizer identified routes to cut such as the teal routes, from Keystone Heights to Black Creek, which has about 45 riders a month.

ElderSource, an agency that provides resources to seniors, said if the council does not meet payroll it could potentially end contracts between the two agencies. The Council on Aging was advanced two months of services worth about $144,000, ElderSource Chief Financial and Operations Officer JaLynne Santiago said.

“We want to know what these next 30 days look like,” Santiago said.

County Commissioner Wayne Bolla said he was open to helping the council in a time of crisis, but was surprised little action had been taken on unprofitable routes since the discussions earlier in the year.

“As a board member, I don’t have any problem giving you a bridge loan keeping the Council on Aging afloat, but what really burns me is I’ve been talking about this since February – we had our auditor in there in the spring,” Bolla said.

Multiple commissioners raised the possibility of assisting Clay Transit, with the caveat of needing more evidence steps would be taken to cut costs. Commissioners Gavin Rollins and Diane Hutchings echoed that the main challenge facing the agency was related to sustainability. They said the commissioners need the council to provide a plan going forward.

Ultimately, the decision to reduce routes and laying off drivers lies with the council. Rollins said potentially cutting transportation funding would not affect other senior services.

“I think there’s any number of possibilities once we have clarity, but right now we’re talking about a bunch of future hypotheticals,” Rollins said. “Clarity is what we need, and I think clarity is what we’ll have in a week and a half.”

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