Sampson Area Transportation took a huge hit to its state funding last year, but could see a small drop of that returned in 2012-13.
Last year’s blow prompted talk of hiking fees from the Department of Aging, which offers the service, and ultimately the county voted to make up the shortfall after the department implemented numerous cost-saving measures and cut trips this past fiscal year.
For 2012-13, however, a small portion of that slashed state allocation is coming back, and Aging director Lorie Sutton said she is optimistic that more money can be saved and some pending grant applications will come through.
The department has submitted its annual Rural Operating Assistance Program funding application, a state-funded public transportation grant program administered by the N.C. Department of Transportation. The Sampson County Board of Commissioners recently authorized the submission, as well as the approval to execute associated documents, including a certification statement.
ROAP funding is used each year to transport people over 60 to and from the nutrition sites and adult day health care, to doctor appointments, grocery stores, nursing homes and other appointments as needed. In addition to serving the elderly, SAT services include providing trips to work-related training and transporting veterans to out-of-county doctor appointments.
Sampson County’s application for 2012-13 is for $178,577, a slight increase over the $174,259 the department was forced to deal with for 2011-12.
“This is $4,318 more than 2011-2012,” said Sutton. “In 2011-12, we did our best to look at our routes more closely to see if we could combine trips. We cut nutrition center and senior center trips from once per month to once per quarter and we cut the shuttle bus from Garland to Clinton to every other week instead of weekly.”
Those changes were made more than halfway through the year last year, so additional savings are expected for this fiscal year, which began July 1.
“So we expect to save a little more this year with continuing in this direction,” Sutton said. “In the end, we went over budget by $23,171 after we applied the fares collected.”
Statewide, ROAP funding was cut by $4 million, to $18.4 million in 2011-12. Of that total, Sampson received $174,259, an overall slash of $46,920 from the $221,179 the county received in 2010-11. In February, after months of discussion, the Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to shoulder the shortfall at Sampson Area Transportation in the wake of a state funding reduction that caused local officials to consider an across-the-board fare increase.
The prospect of raising fees was tabled and subsequently set aside in favor of the county board utilizing contingency funds. The shortfall was expected to be between $25,000 and $30,000 and ended up being around $20,000. Some policy revisions and operational changes were implemented in an effort to better utilize manpower and equipment in order to make up for the nearly $47,000 cut in ROAP funding to SAT.
The county approved a budget amendment last month for $20,258 from its contingency funding to pay for fuel due to the cuts in state funding.
ROAP consolidates the Elderly and Disabled Transportation Assistance Program (EDTAP), the Employment Transportation Assistance Program (EMPL) and the Rural General Public Program (RGP) into a single application package.
EDTAP provides operating assistance for the transportation of elderly and disabled citizens, with the goal of the program to help them reside for a longer period in their homes, thereby enhancing their quality of life; EMPL provides operating assistance for the transportation of persons with employment-related transportation needs; and RGP funds are intended to provide operating assistance for the transportation of individuals who do not have human service agency assistance to pay for their transportation and live in non-urbanized areas. There is a nominal fare associated for riders as a stipulation of the RGP funds.
For 2012-13, the $178,577 is made up of $70,597 in EDTAP funding, $24,610 in EMPL funding and $83,370 in RGP.
The first proposed disbursement, of 25 percent of the total funding, is expected in mid-August. The second disbursement, of the remaining 75 percent, will come at the end of September. Sutton remains hopeful that grants applied for at the beginning of this year will be successful for 2012-13.
Those grants include one with FY 2013 Community Transportation Program Section 5311, $157,507 with a required 15 percent county match of $23,627, and a capital request of $177,860 requiring 10 percent county match of $17,786. The other grants include those available through Federal Section 5310 and Federal Section 5316, the Elderly and Disabled Persons Program and the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC), respectively. The two grant packages total $100,000, and each require a 50 percent match.
“We are still waiting to hear from three grants that we applied for earlier in the year,” she said. “If those are funded, that will help out tremendously with what we were cut and allow us to provide additional transportation trips for residents. We should know something soon regarding those grants. If we are not granted additional funding, we will take it month by month and talk with the commissioners to find out what they would like for us to do.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.