FTA adds new restrictions to county transit board

Board member removed; hours of service reduced

WARREN — The Trumbull County Transit Board “failed to comply with federal requirements” and the Federal Transit Administration is adding new restrictions on the way the board’s administrator can withdraw federal funds, according to a letter from the federal agency to the board’s chairman.

The “FTA has concluded that action is necessary to protect federal interests, and thus, will be restricting the TCTB’s electronic draw down privileges upon issuance of this letter. The TCTB will now be required to obtain prior FTA approval to withdraw funds from the Electronic Clearing House Operations accounting system. The TCTB will be required to provide invoices and supporting documentation to the FTA regional office requesting review and approval to withdraw the funds through ECHO. These restrictions will remain in place until the TCTB has adequately addressed all deficiencies outlined in the April 1, 2019, correspondence,” the letter states.

The letter is just one of several pieces of bad news the board received this week.

One of the board’s members, Marlin Palich, was removed Thursday morning by Trumbull County commissioners after the Trumbull County Board of Elections Tuesday revoked his voter registration. Board members have to be valid electors in the county and the election board found the Cortland address Palich was registered to vote from was not valid — the 211 Cricket Lane house was labeled an abandoned, nuisance property by the city and his mail from the elections board was returned undeliverable.

Commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa and Frank Fuda voted to remove Palich from the transit board, while Daniel Polivka voted “no,” arguing Palich should have the chance to register to vote from a different address.

And in a special meeting Thursday, the board learned from its fiscal officer that because of funding issues, it will have to reduce the number of hours it offers service through contractor Community Bus Services from 90 hours per day to 24. The company can bill that many hours because there are multiple drivers out at the same time. The bus company provides between one and two rides per hour at a cost of $65 per hour.

The budget prediction at the beginning of the year was reduced by approximately $335,000 to about $1.6 million for the year. The reduction is from the Trumbull County Educational Service Center ending a $279,000 contract — the board is only getting half the amount for the year because it was canceled halfway through — and a reduction in money the county is providing the board from the county’s senior levy. Rather than receiving the $425,000 for which the board budgeted, they are now expecting only $230,000, even though that money has not yet been approved by commissioners for transfer to the board.

The council advising the commissioners on the expenditure of senior levy funds is actively seeking bids for other transportation options for people 60 or older, and it has lined up other local companies to provide services in the meantime to seniors.

However, even as local and federal funding sources are coming into question, the board may be eligible for an infusion in transportation funding through the state. The General Assembly and the governor approved a statewide transportation bill that allocates $71 million for public transit.

The state is issuing a survey to transit systems to see what they need, said Mirta Reyes-Chapman, transit program manager for the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

“The state is aware of the funding problems and is supportive. Ohio may be able to contribute more,” Reyes-Chapman said.

The board expects to receive about $600,000 from the state this year. The board also is budgeting to receive nearly $800,000 in federal funds, even though its grant applications for the year haven’t been finalized — and can’t be — until the board submits approved civil rights program requirements, which were due Dec. 1.

The expiration of the board’s Title 6 civil rights program submission is just one thing the FTA wants finished before completely restoring the board’s status.

The FTA in April requested corrections and documentation for several deficiencies the board was cited for in 2016. Although transit administrator Mike Salamone submitted a response to the FTA requests in April, with help from board attorney Daniel Keating, the response was not adequate, the letter states.

Robert Faulkner, board chairman, said the FTA’s most recent letter isn’t clear on what exactly they have failed to remediate.

Faulkner asked Salamone to get proposals from consulting companies to help with the issue, but they could cost more than $20,000. If the board pays a consulting company that much, that will tie up more of its funding, which could lead to another reduction in the amount of hours the board can pay CBS for services, Salamone said.

Many callers already are being turned away from the public service because it is at capacity with the limited number of hours the system can perform.

The fiscal officer is compiling numbers at Salamone’s request to determine the effect hiring a consultant would have on the budget. The board called a special meeting for 3 p.m. June 6 at the Trumbull County Educational Service Center to review the proposals Salamone has gathered.

Keating also is getting a proposal from an attorney the board previously hired to represent them in meetings with the FTA to address the same, still outstanding issues.

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