Transit commission update
New buses, cash flow are priorities
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
The Oneida-Vilas Transit Commission is half a step closer to securing a bank loan to purchase three new buses. Friday the Oneida County Administration Committee agreed to forward to the full board for consideration a resolution to approve the transit commission’s borrowing of $123,705 from a local bank, with which to purchase the buses. County approval will be the final step in the loan process.
The passenger buses, which have been delivered and are parked behind the commission’s office on Stevens Street in Rhinelander, will replace Northwoods Transit Connections’ aging fleet. They are funded through state and federal grants, in the form of reimbursement. Since the commission doesn’t have available funds to make the purchase, it is seeking permission from Oneida and Vilas County Boards to take out the loan.
“It’s a short-term loan,” said commission vice-chairman Bob Mott. “As soon as the (Department of Transportation) has seen evidence that we have paid off the buses, then they will send the money back, we pay off the loan and it’s done.”
Commission chairman Vilas County Supervisor Erv Teichmiller said the commission has raised $51,500 locally to cover a 20-percent match required by the government.
The process takes time, Mott added, and said he sees county approval as “somewhat of a no-brainer,” since the reimbursement will happen.
“It really is a separate transaction that the county really isn’t involved in,” Mott said. “This is a separate entity as I see it. Our charter says the county needs to be made aware of any loan. That’s why we’re here today.”
The Vilas-County Board of Supervisors approved a similar resolution Feb. 27. The full Oneida County Board meets March 20. Mott told committee members they expect to have the new buses working by April 1.
After presenting a business plan to the committee, Mott brought up the commission’s concern regarding cash flow. The commission plans to seek operating funds to use throughout the year which would be reimbursed as federal money comes in. Mott stated that the commission would like permission from the Administration Committee to purchase fuel from Oneida County (and will ask the same of Vilas County) and purchase employer-employee health insurance from Oneida county for up to three employees, and make payments for both when federal money comes in, late September or early October.
Last fall the commission found itself in a financial crunch after not receiving any contracted federal funds and having higher-than-budgeted expenses. There was concern the buses would be financially unable to run after September.
“This past year there wasn’t an agreement in stone and the bills didn’t get paid until late September or early October and that caused some consternation among people,” Mott said. “It should have been handled, we thought it was being handled and it wasn’t and so we want to have this out front this year and have that discussion in April.”
The final thing Mott said the commission will ask is for the Administration Committee to grant permission for Oneida Vilas Transit to borrow $150,000 to be used as cash flow to meet expenses until federal funds come through, either from a bank, or to “extend that credit through the general fund for an additional $75,000 matched by a similar loan from Vilas County.”
Administration Committee member Supervisor Robb Jensen said he was concerned about setting a precedent.
“If it is an account that they draw from, what additional expenses would it put upon our finance department and do we charge an administrative fee for that,” Jensen said. “Good question for corporation counsel…I don’t know if we have done this for other commissions.”
The total amount the commission is requesting for fuel, insurance and cash flow is $250,000 or $125,000 from each county.
“When we finalize our budget, we’ll have a spreadsheet that will show how it is that we need those dollars each month, and where we begin to run into difficulty without that cash flow available,” said Teichmiller.
The commission will bring the issues back before the Administration Committee next month.