County transit funds will be delayed

Mark Hess to be hired on contract basis

WARREN — Funds the Trumbull County Transit Board received in October 2017 to reimburse its contractor for services aren’t likely to be obtained until next year because of a delay in filing an application with the Federal Transit Administration.

“The board usually receives the money by the end of the year, but the application is late. We need to get it done soon, to get it through the FTA’s quarterly review process in time to get the funds in the first quarter of 2019,” said Mark Hess.

Hess is the former administrator of the transit system, who is expected to enter a contract today with Trumbull County commissioners to serve on an as-needed basis as transit administrator for $50 an hour.

The grant brings in about $800,000, and is secured by providing local matching funds from communities and other organizations contributing money. The board is still likely to get the award, but the contractor will be paid late unless Trumbull County commissioners can front the money, Hess said. The FTA has cited the board for paying its contractor, Community Bus Services, late in the past and asked the board to correct the issue.

Hess earned $65,000 a year, plus benefits, when he served in the role before. When he retired, he was volunteering his time to help Rebecca Gerson, the woman hired by Trumbull County commissioners to serve as transit administrator and county administrator / purchasing director. She was to be paid $85,000 a year in the dual positions, taking over Hess’ full-time, 40-hour week and adding the responsibilities of the county-centered positions.

Commissioner Frank Fuda said it was too much work for one person.

There is a lot of administrative work to be done on the transit end, Hess said. Although Gerson turned in her two-week notice last week, declaring her last day would be Sept. 6, she informed the county’s human resources department this week she shouldn’t be expected again.

A full-time replacement for Gerson is being sought and the position will not be combined with the county administrator job, which is being taken over, for now, by the county’ director of human resources, Richard Jackson.

Hess had been volunteering his time to help get Gerson caught up on the fine details of the federal paperwork required by the FTA to receive public funding. Gerson, an attorney who has worked for the Youngstown Law Department and Mahoning County, did not have experience with transportation systems before. She said she resigned to go back to practicing law.

One of the issues Hess was assisting Gerson with was an official response to issues the FTA had with the way the transit board is functioning because the first response she turned in shortly after taking the helm in April was rejected, he said.

“They didn’t accept any part of the response,” Hess said. “They wanted to see her doing more oversight actions, and to see proof of it. The responses contained information about what they would be doing to address FTA concerns, but there was nothing to show any action was completed. And they wanted to see it quickly.”

There should have been reports from visits to the contractor and other oversight actions, Hess said.

The FTA wanted to see changes with the complaint system, including communicating the resolution to the complainant. Although changes have been made, the FTA needs to see more.

Other issues the federal agency wanted to see resolved include changes to the board’s procurement procedures, implementation of transition plans for administrative staff changes and assurances the contractor wasn’t handling items the board and its employees are supposed to handle.