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County loans $30K, talks transit future

March 12, 2017
Cody Benjamin - Register Staff Writer ( , Faribault County Register

The wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round.

But not without some concerns from the Faribault County Board of Commissioners.

On Tuesday, March 7, the board voted to authorize a $30,000 advance payment to the Faribault and Martin County Transit Board, answering transit director Jeremy Monahan's call for help in confronting a projected cash-flow shortfall.

The vote was preceded, however, by warnings of caution from commissioner Tom Warmka, as well as brief, albeit prominent, questions regarding the feasibility of the county's long-term involvement with the public bus service.

"This makes me very darn nervous," Warmka said. "This is a money pit."

Warmka was part of a transit board meeting on Feb. 22, when commissioners from both Martin and Faribault counties pledged to aid the transit with a combined total of $60,000, so Monahan's request was not a surprise. And the shortfall that prompted the advance payment, he acknowledged, is "not necessarily (the transit's) fault since federal money isn't coming in" on time.

Commissioner Tom Loveall reiterated that, as fellow commissioner Bill Groskreutz did during the transit's own meeting in February.

"Now, when the money is short, it just moves more transparently," Loveall said, noting that financial hiccups were not nearly as apparent before Faribault and Martin counties took over the bus service operation in October 2016.

Still, Warmka did not hesitate to make his concerns known.

"We're going to have to figure out a way to get these buses profit-neutral," he said. "I know we're not trying to make money off them, but what if this becomes an ongoing thing?"

If the county was called upon year after year for financial assistance and was not happy about it, Loveall noted, there is not necessarily anything stopping the commissioners from "bailing out of" obligations to fund the transit operation, which it assumed in 2016 after Fairmont's Fairlakes Transportation opted to terminate its own service contract.

"Right now, it's a question of maintaining it," Loveall said, "but we can always vote to get out of it."

Monahan, though, assured the commissioners that he would work to pay back the $30,000 advance as soon as July.

Detailing plans to improve the bus service's ridership, which he said had "growing" numbers at the start of the year, Monahan again noted that those improvement plans were often sidelined in recent months as the transit became an in-house operation.

The $30,000 from Faribault County, then, allows Monahan and Co. to avoid a negative funds balance from the middle of March to some time in April, when the transit is expected to be without anticipated federal funds.

"It's much better to deal with it now than to be writing bouncing checks," Groskreutz said.

And if the problems continue long after the county's big-money assistance?

The commissioners did not rule out revisiting their contributions to the transit, but they also agreed that any significant change to the service would not come without controversy.

"I was told, 'Don't mess with the bus,'" said commissioner Greg Young. "People count on this bus service."

With $30,000 headed the transit's way, people can count on it a little longer.

At Tuesday's meeting, the County Board also:

Approved a resolution to finalize payment for Wells' Safe Routes to School construction project as well as other plans outlined by county engineer Mark Daly.

As requested by Daly, the board authorized opening the bidding process for various seal coat oil, microsurfacing, striping and overlay road projects starting March 30.

And it signed off on Daly's plan to open bids for a County Road 32 project in Wells starting July 2017. That construction would cost an estimated $312,000.

Heard staff updates from Central Services director Dawn Fellows, who said that four candidates will be interviewed for a vacant assistant county engineer position.



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