Whidbey News-Times


Island Transit's six-year plan built on hope for federal, state grants

By JANIS REID Whidbey News-Times Staff reporter
August 23, 2014 · Updated 2:42 PM

Jeff Lauderdale questions the Island County Transit Board Friday about the agency’s expenses and revenues. / Photo by Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Where did the money go and what is Island Transit going to do about it?

That was the main question repeated by an angry crowd at the Island Transit board meeting Friday.

“You folks had a pile of money, and over a period of time, it was gone,” one resident said. “Why are you still here pretending to manage?”

The board approved its state-required Six-Year Transit Development Plan Friday before going into its regular meeting.

Board chairman Bob Clay appeared to struggle to maintain traditional meeting procedure as questions and answers flew between residents and board members.

Several attending said the six-year plan is unrealistic given IT’s financial situation.

It was unveiled in June that Island Transit had completely depleted its reserves after the completion of its new state-of-the-art transit hub and didn’t have enough money to pay their bills. Several routes were cut or limited and 22 staffers laid off.

“I find this to be extremely optimistic,” said Transit Board member Jim Campbell of the plan. “Something can go to hell in a hand-basket real fast. We don’t have a plan if it fails.”

Executive Director Martha Rose assured the board and residents that federal and state grants will help the agency stabilize, but many voiced skepticism that her plan will pan out.

Rose said grant money will start to materialize in 2015.

That, she said, will “go a long way in getting us back on track.”

At least one of those grants can’t be applied for until November and is not completely guaranteed, she said.

“What are the chances for actually getting (the grants)?” Gary Ray asked. “Is this a pipe dream or is it realistic?”

“It’s very realistic,” Rose said.

Board member Jim Sundberg added that its possible Island Transit could be in better shape than what is currently projected.

“If we are more successful than we thought, we may be able to restore services sooner than we thought.”

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she wants to reopen the agency’s service cut decisions because the board was not allowed to provide direction.

Unincorporated parts of South Whidbey, which lay in her district, are “carrying the brunt” of the cuts, she said.

“I’m not comfortable about this,” Price Johnson said. “I don’t believe that we as a board have had those discussions on a policy level.”

Restoring cuts to paratransit service for the disabled is at the top of the agency’s list of priorities, Rose said.

Rose said she is working one-on-one with clients to ensure they get to critical appointments.

“We want them to get their services, and we’re bending as far back as we can,” Rose said.

Some board members said they were confused by the financial documents shared at the meeting.

“We’re getting so many different forms in so many different formats,” Clay said. “It’s all confusing. I want something that doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out. That’s been part of the problem.”

Sundberg agreed that the board needed to focus on “summarizing data that makes it more clear for us and the public.”

While the board still does not have a clear picture of what happened, they are in the process of finding out.

“I don’t think the board is 100 percent aware of what’s going on,” Clay said. “The board was not made aware of the irregularities that have been uncovered. For a period of time, our expenses exceeded our revenue.

“How that was done, we don’t know.”

Rose maintains she was “not aware” of the financial problems.

Rose fired former finance manger Barbara Savary after the financial problems came to light.

Sandra Kuykendall, who preceded Savary in the role, returned recently to Island Transit.

“The whole budget process was misstated to the board and Martha,” Kuykendall said. “They were under an assumption that was not true.”

The state audit started last week and will continue for approximately 30 days, Clay said. He added that at the completion of the state audit, he would like the board to consider a forensic audit as well.

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