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Suwannee Valley TA: Commissioner/Administrator Sessions, Not Sure Where the Money Comes From

Former SVTA Interim Administrator, Teresa Fortner, looks on as Commissioner/Administrator Sessions tries to explain the funding streams for Suwannee Valley Transit.

COLUMBIA, HAMILTON, SUWANNEE COUNTIES – Wednesday, May 17, 2017, the Florida Commission for the Disadvantaged (CTD) Local Coordinating Board and the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council convened their annual public hearing. According to the planning agency guidelines, the meeting is "for the purpose of receiving input regarding unmet needs or any other areas that relate to the local transportation services." Last year, the Planning Council's Scott Koons changed the purpose of the hearings to only include Transportation Disadvantaged transportation, ignoring the other surface transportation needs of the region.

More SVTA articles

After the hearing opened, your reporter asked for a rundown of the revenue sources funding the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) so the conversation could be narrowed down to services which are funded only by transportation disadvantaged funds.

Suwannee County Commissioner Larry Sessions
"[Funding] has to do with the way we're audited."

Suwannee County Commissioner Sessions is also the Administrator of the SVTA.

Mr. Sessions explained, "A lot of that information about funding sources and funding streams and all that -- it has to do with the way we're audited and looks at where everything comes from. I gave you a complete copy of the audit at our last meeting, so you can probably research it for yourself."

This information is not clear from looking at the audit.

Your reporter followed up, "You should at least have an idea. There can't be that many funding streams."

Mr. Sessions answered, "I don't want to be misquoted, but we get funded by the DOT (Department of Transportation), with TD (Transportation Disadvantaged) and money that we make."

Your reporter asked, "How much money of that is for transportation disadvantaged. That's what I'm trying to understand."

DOT's Sandra Collins didn't try to explain SVTA funding sources.

Mr. Sessions didn't know. His top administrator and former Interim Administrator Teresa Fortner was with him. She sat silent along with the DOT's Sandra Collins.

Looking for a Life Ring

Mr. Sessions turned to the Planning Council's Lynn Godfrey, "Transportation disadvantaged. Ms. Lynn, do you want to speak to that."

Ms. Godfrey tried to come to the rescue, "I was just going to say if the Board would like, we will provide a presentation prior to the next board meeting and we will provide you with the different funding sources -- how much is coming from the different funding sources, we can talk about planning funds -- what our function is -- what the board function is."

It is not clear why Mr. Sessions, who operates with an annual budget of almost $2,000,000 and limited funding streams, was unclear about his agency's revenue sources and what they funded.

Chairperson Beth Burnam made certain that the opportunity was available for all questions and answers. Next year's Chairperson, Suw. County Com. Don Hale looks on.

Mr. Sessions added, "Just on the ball park we get about 65 thousand a month out of the TD. It's not given to us up front. We turn in all the invoices of everything we did. They fund us according to that."

This is not accurate. The TD money which comes from the state is distributed 1/12 at a time, so that the agency does not spend all its money before the year runs out. If there is any excess, the money must be returned to the state funding pool. However, the rules allow the provider to spend up to 25% of its excess funds, if approved by the Local Planning Commission and the state, for vehicle purchase.

Second highest cost per trip in rural Florida

According to the latest figures (2016) available from the Florida DOT, the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority is the second most expensive rural transportation provider in the state, costing the Columbia-Hamilton-Suwannee County taxpayers, the state and the American people $3.85 cents per mile to transport its passengers. A single trip costs $37.64 and the cost per driver hour is $55.45.

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and the Florida DOT have refused to actively look into consolidating the North Central Florida region to provide a well run and efficient rural transportation authority that will benefit the entire region and end the duplication of services.

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