Suwannee Democrat

Jasper News

January 18, 2013

HamCo Commissioners agree to SVTA board consolidation

Jasper — Director of Operations of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) William Steele addressed the Hamilton County Commissioners on Friday, Jan. 4 to ask for their approval to combine the three member counties of the SVTA (Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton) into one regional advisory board, which would eliminate having to hold three separate and identical meetings in the three counties and help reduce operating costs. 
Suwannee County commissioners have already approved a similar request.

SVTA is a public agency that serves low income individuals and families, elderly, disabled, frail elderly and the general public. According to Steele, the SVTA was created by an interlocal agreement in 1979 between the three counties.

For years, however, the SVTA has been fraught with problems, including non-compliance with state and federal agencies in their accounting procedures. Also, previous mismanagement of funds resulted in millions of dollars worth of debt.

Gwendolyn Pra, formerly of the Florida Department of Transportation, took over as director of SVTA on Aug. 15, 2011 and promised to make changes. One of those changes was the hiring of Steele as the operations manager.

Steele said after he and Pra were hired, the board of directors helped guide them to come up with a three-year plan to straighten things out at SVTA.

“The first year in the plan was just a broad stroke,” he said. “To get things in compliance. To get the budget working.”

Steele said they have successfully completed that part of the plan and they are paying their bills on time.

“More importantly, we qualify now under the state FDOT requirements,” he said.

FDOT, he said, certified them in November to continue operations and took them off probation.

Now, during the second year of the plan they will be looking at more ways to cut costs. Reducing their monthly phone bill of $1,500 in half was one that he mentioned.

Another cost-cutting measure, Steele said, is to combine the three county boards into one local coordinating board. Suwannee County, he said, has already agreed, and he will be speaking to Columbia County Commissioners to request the same. By holding only one group meeting each quarter for the three counties, Steel said it would save time, money and paperwork, further reducing operating costs.

One thing that would change with the combined regional board is there would be one chairman and one vice chairman, instead of one chair and vice chair from all three counties, and they would be on a rotation basis. Quarterly meetings would also rotate between all three counties.

Aside from local funding from the three counties the SVTA also receives grant monies from both federal and state government programs. Steele explained that under the new regional board all funding that each county gets from state and federal agencies will now go into one pot and be used as needed for each county.

Steele said the SVTA receives two major sources of funding. He said they get $198,000 per month from Medicaid. The other source funds come from each county. In the past he said SVTA would supply transportation for each individual county until those funds ran out. With the combined regional agreement, however, the SVTA could use funds from the single, general pot of money to provide transportation services in case one of the county’s funds ran out.

Any funds that aren’t used have to be returned to Tallahassee, Steele said.

Commissioner Beth Burnam made a motion to declare an emergency and that the board approve the consolidation of the three boards. The motion was seconded and approved unanimously.

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