‘Technical assistance’ from aging department favored for transit commission
Up to 7.5 hours per week in financial help proposed
BY KEVIN BONESKE
To prevent a financial crisis like the Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission faced last fall in operating the Northwoods Transit Connections buses, the commission’s executive committee discussed Thursday about having two employees from the Oneida County Department on Aging provide “technical assistance” for handling the commission’s finances this year.
The Transit Commission’s vice chairman, Oneida County supervisor Bob Mott, said the commission currently doesn’t have a general fund like counties or municipalities do to cover bills until grant funding arrives. He noted both counties which support the commission had advanced it a combined $100,000.
In addition, Mott said he didn’t want to overspend the annual budget early in the year as happened in 2017 “and get to the point where (in) October, November (and) December we have to cut back drastically.”
To manage the commission’s finances throughout the year and not have to face the possibility of laying off drivers or rescheduling routes, for instance, Mott said the suggestion was made while discussing the matter with Oneida County officials that instead of hiring a financial manager, aging director Dianne Jacobson would have assistant director Joel Gottsacker and account clerk Maria Cox help the commission with its finances.
“They will offer technical assistance from the aging department, starting out with at the most 7.5 hours a week,” Mott said. “It may be less, whatever is needed. They’re going to work with Barb (Newman, the commission’s office manager).”
“This is a much wiser plan (than hiring a financial manager),” added Transit Commission manager Jim Altenburg. “It’s a very good plan.”
Mott said Gottsacker and Cox would help Newman to manage the commission’s finances in a prescribed way until that type of assistance would no longer be necessary as the year progresses.
“We’ll set down a procedure that will be followed dealing with everything from dollars collected to other types of financial procedures that are set in place,” said Mott, who also noted Gottsacker and Cox would be paid for providing a contracted service.
Jacobson said a contract will be put together by county corporation counsel Brian Desmond regarding the financial advice the aging department would provide to the commission. She noted the matter would be on the agenda when the commission’s full board meets Jan. 11.
“We think that will overcome some of the concerns that the county has and also some of the ‘problems’ that we had (in 2017),” Mott said.
Financial figures provided to the executive committee in early September showed more than $490,000 had been expended for 2017 through the end of August, leaving the Transit Commission budget with less than $40,000 per month for the rest of the year. Coupled with contracted federal funds not having been received by then, that raised concerns about whether the buses would be able to keep running after the end of September. Grant funding later arrived and changes were made to the commission’s operations to reduce costs.
A draft of the 2018 budget reviewed by the executive committee at Thursday’s meeting includes more than $770,000 in expenditures. Estimated revenues, which mostly include rider fares, are now budgeted at $87,400. The projected local share, which includes support from Oneida County, Vilas County and Headwaters, is budgeted at $241,871.68. The estimated federal/state share is at $443,104.32.
Last year marked the first full year of operations for Northwood Transit Connections. The Transit Commission took over busing transportation services that prior to 2016 had been handled in Oneida County by the county’s department on aging. Since then, the passenger base has expanded from the elderly and disabled to now include individuals who are not in those two categories.
Jacobson said specialized transportation funding the county has been receiving for transporting elderly and disabled individuals now goes to the commission. She noted the $131,154 budgeted by Oneida County for 2018 includes $107,102, or 80 percent, coming from the state Department of Transportation with the county matching 20 percent, or $24,052.