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Columbia County 5 Bails Out Suwannee Valley TA After It Runs Out of Money - Again: Gives $50,000

Posted December 18, 2014  03:25 pm | (2 comments)

SVTA may soon be auctioning off some of its buses and laying off staff. No plan was disclosed.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) was front and center at the Columbia County Commission (County 5 or The 5) last night. Once again, the SVTA ran out of money. Records that were not made available to the public in advance of the meeting, in violation of the County Charter, show that on December 1 the SVTA was $50,600 behind in its bills. The request from the SVTA for a $50,000 grant from Columbia County's taxpayers made it onto the County's agenda. There was no explanation how it got there.

The County 5 also voted to advance the SVTA $18,369 of the County's $24,492 annual funding commitment, $6,123 dollars of which was paid on October 27.

Chairman DePratter: A shaky start as Chair

Your reporter asked the new County Chairman, Rusty DePratter, who was recently  elected to his chairmanship with two out of five votes, how the item landed on the agenda and added, "I would like an explanation of why there is no information available to the public. It seems that the County 5 is the only one with any backup information."

This is in violation of the County Charter, which requires backup material made available to The 5 be made available to the public. Again, there was no answer.

Your reporter, who is also a County resident and taxpayer said, "I would ask this board to consider during your discussions, and I am sure you've had them in the back room, because that's the way this county operates – nothing new there – to shutting the SVTA down."

Chairman DePratter jumped in, "Mr. Lilker, I'll stop you now. Make a statement. I have the Chair. I can stop you when I want. I can stop you when I like to. You're not gonna bash this commission and say that we've had backroom meetings when you have no proof. Show me the proof."

The 5's backroom meetings are legendary. Your reporter responded, "It's amazing how the vote is always 5-0, 99.44% of the time Mr. Chairman. I'm presuming that is just a coincidence in Columbia County, as most residents clearly do – just a coincidence."

Chairman: Gets his bearing

Mr. DePratter broke from the 5's rules and allowed the speakers to address the County 5 when the item came up on the agenda, rather than at the beginning of the meeting.

The Riders Speak

Richard Todd addressed The 5: "For 5 years I needed to use Suwannee Valley Transit for my medical transport. In that time I found they abused their equipment. Their drivers – a lot of them were surly."

Mr. Todd asked, "This money should get them through to that time, or are they going to blow it for equipment that they are going to abuse?"

Chairman DePratter responded, "We'll answer that question when we get to the discussion."

Commissioner Nash volunteered, "The 50,000 is to get to September of this year." He added that $18,000 was awarded earlier. (The 5 approved this on its consent agenda).

Mr. Todd followed up, "You are giving them 50,000 on top of that?"

Commissioner Nash: "On top of that. Yes sir."

Commissioner Nash asked Mr. Todd, "You no longer ride with Suwannee Valley Transit?"

Mr. Todd answered, "No sir." He explained an HMO took over and he was able to go with another provider. "The company has not made me wait. They have not put me on unsafe vehicles. They have not had surly drivers. They have not had drivers that break their own rules."

LJ Johnson addressed The 5. Mr. Johnson is the Rider's Representative on the Local Coordinating Board (LCB), which has a measure of oversight over the SVTA. The LCB is a creature of the North Central Florida Planning Council, which answers and works for the Commission for the Disadvantaged (CTD) in Tallahassee. The CTD is under the Florida DOT.

The money that finances the SVTA comes from both the feds and the state.

Mr. Johnson advised, "Riders have been penalized for missing appointments with specialists and had to pay out of their own pockets for missing their appointments."

Mr. Johnson pointed out that Commissioner Ronald Williams has been the Chairman of the SVTA for as long as anyone can remember and opined that if background checks would have been done on the upper management of the SVTA some of the problems that exist might not.

As Mr. Johnson walked away from the microphone, Commissioner Nash, who has represented Columbia County, along with Commissioner Williams for the past two years on the SVTA Board, the governing body of the SVTA, asked Mr. Johnson if he has filled out a current application to ride with SVTA and intimated that he was unqualified to use the service.

Mr. Johnson told Commissioner Nash that SVTA had never sent him an application and he would be happy to fill one out if they sent one to him.

Mr. Johnson told Commissioner Nash and The 5, "I'm honest enough to do that. It would have been nice if SVTA was honest enough to do the job they should have been doing in the first place."

Ralph Kitchens, a long time member of the LCB, addressed The 5. "I don't see anyone here from SVTA. I'd like to see them identify themselves." (No one did).

Mr. Kitchens continued, "I agree with what Mr. Todd and Mr. Johnson said. It's throwing good money after bad. I think we should just let it shut down. From what I've seen since 2005, Suwannee Valley Transit has run its course."

Kitchens reserved his final comment for Commissioner Nash, "And Commissioner Nash, I don't think that questioning Mr. Johnson's eligibility when he speaks out is really appropriate."

Sandra Buck-Camp, an alternate LCB member addressed The 5.

Ms. Buck-Camp questioned for which year the $50,000 was to be applied.

Ms. Buck-Camp asked, "What type of plan would be adopted so that Columbia County would be reimbursed?"

Ms. Buck-Camp concluded, "I have conflicting messages. We want to help the people, but by the same token it doesn't need to cost everybody in the County so much money."

The County Speaks

Chairman DePratter introduced Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott: "Ben, you are going to present this to us so that everyone can understand what's going on."

Mr. Scott explained, "I received some information from the Suwannee Valley Transit staff that said, Mr. Lilker's correct, their funding comes from state grants, federal grants and a small amount from fare boxes."

Mr. Scott continued, "There is going to be a shortfall of $34,000 in January between their estimated revenues and their expenses... Right now they have some outstanding bills that have not been paid and they need some cash for it." (Current due: $50,600)

Commissioner Nash gave a financial explanation of the cash flow and said, "We went from 8,000 (trips) a month to 2,000. Mr. Lilker is right, we can turn it over to the state – let them do it... I think part of our responsibility is to keep this going."

Commissioner Nash, who has been on the SVTA Board for the past two years, took responsibility for what has transpired.

Commissioner Nash opined, "They're [the speakers] dealing with emotions and we're tryin' to deal with numbers and facts."

He continued, relying on documentation that was not made available to the public before the meeting, "You're probably at about $375,000 to go out of business. We are responsible for 51% of that... Yes we have to make cuts and Mr. Lilker's also right, you are top heavy in administration..."

Commissioner Nash claimed they have "taken actions to fix things. To lay-off people around Christmas time is a little sensitive. We do have a plan to lay-off and sell surplus buses."

The SVTA has not produced a business plan or a lay-off plan to the County, nor did they produce any surplus vehicle reduction plan.

Commissioner Williams added some comments about dialysis patients being transported on Saturdays. His discussion on finance was fuzzy.

The Vote

Commissioner Nash made a motion for Columbia County to give $50,000 to Suwannee Valley Transit.

There was no discussion. No one explained where the money was coming from.

The 5 voted unanimously to give away $50,000 to keep the SVTA afloat.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On December 22, 2014, TB of Lake City wrote:

Nowhere else will you find 3 in perfect harmony except for The Father , Son, and The Holy Ghost, except for the 5 of the County 5. Miraculous? I think not.


On December 22, 2014, RT of Lake City wrote:

Thursday night's County Commission Meeting was a perfect example of one of Murphy's Laws, The Sausage Law, which states: "He who loves Sausage and the Law should never watch either one being made." This writer would rather watch a hog being slaughtered, cut up and ground into paste and spiced than watch the depositing of Bovine Excrement that was Thursday night's meeting.

Our County Commissioners, aka, The County 5, again managed to get their way and pass a motion to give the directors of Suwannee Valley Transit Authority fifty thousand  ($50,000) dollars to spend for everything but transporting the elderly and indigent to medical appointments as their charter dictates. Most of their funding, in the words of a representative from SVTA, will be used for administrative uses such as vehicles for the directors and paperwork and other Extatic Equine Excrement!

After a grand total of ten or maybe fifteen seconds discussion from those present, The 5 made a motion, seconded it, and passed it unanimously.

I am still in a daze wondering what hell The 5 have dropped in the lap of the tax payers of this county. By their own admission, SVTA is in such dire straits they may fold as early as March of 2015 even with what was just handed to them on a paper plate. Why throw good money after bad?

For almost 5 years I had to use SVTA to provide my medical transportation needs. The SVTA had the exclusive rights to appoint who would take riders to their appointments. I was usually the only person, except the driver, aboard the large city type SVTA buses.

Why should the tax payers of Columbia and the other two counties have to foot the bills for the mismanagement of SVTA?



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Related Links:

SVTA Board Should Bring Back the Team That Brought it Back from the Brink of Bankruptcy
(Posted December 26, 2014)

Columbia County 5 Bails Out Suwannee Valley TA After It Runs Out of Money - Again: Gives $50,000
(Posted December 18, 2014)

• I Had The Displeasure of Having To Ride SVTA
(Posted August 27, 2014)

Former Suwannee Valley TA Operations Director: Team SVTA Accomplished Its Mission
(Posted August 25, 2014)

Suwannee Valley TA: In Disarray Since 2011, The SVTA Remains Severely Challenged
(Posted August 19, 2014)

Suwannee Valley TA: Dialysis Patients Riding On Saturday for Another Month
(Posted May 14, 2014)

FOILED – A Plan to Depose the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and Replace it With the SVTA
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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
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(Posted April 30, 2014)

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Suwannee Valley TA Under Microscope: OIG (Office of the Inspector General) Called In To Investigate
(Posted March 13, 2014)

Transit Authority Moves Into 21st Century Commissioner Nash Says, "No Mas" to Secrecy
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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Grievance Committee: Other Complaints & Retaliation (Posted Sept 30, 2013)  (Part II)

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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA): Florida's Sunshine Laws - What's that?
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