Macon-Bibb Transit Authority asks city, county for $1M

The Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority board Monday asked top Macon and Bibb County officials for about $1 million to get the bus system through this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The board also asked to revise its tri-party agreement, which dictates how the transit authority is funded, with the city and county to better reflect the authority’s funding needs.

“It’s a solution,” said Carl Jackson, the transit authority’s general manager and chief executive officer. “It may not be the right one, but we would like to give you all the best transit system we can give you.”

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert, Bibb Commission Chairman Sam Hart, City Council President Miriam Paris and City Councilman Mike Cranford attended the special-called meeting in the Terminal Station to hear the authority’s request.

Reichert and Hart appeared willing to help the transit authority, but they made no promises and said they would bring up the issue with the City Council and the commission.

The transit authority asked for the funds in two parts: one that would help the authority maintain a 45-day operating reserve and another that would compensate the authority for funds not yet received from a federal grant. The city would pay 60 percent of the total amount, and the county would pay 40 percent, as is spelled out in the current tri-party agreement.

The transit authority needs $463,000 from the city and county to meet its 45-day operating reserve of $590,000, according to documents provided at the meeting.

“We’ve tried to work without it, but we need it now, and that is something that is required of the existing agreement,” said Brad Wilson, the authority’s attorney.

The authority also asked the city and the county for $593,000 to cover the balance of a federal grant, which the authority has yet to receive in its entirety, according to documents. The transit authority would pay the city and county back within five business days of receiving the federal funds, officials said.

Transit officials propose a version of this in the new tri-party agreement, which would prevent the authority from having to take out future loans to cover operating costs.

Much of the authority’s funding comes from a federal grant, and each year the authority receives those funds late, putting a pinch on its pocketbook. As a result, the transit authority has a growing bank line of credit, officials said.

If the authority does not receive additional money from the city and county, it could end this fiscal year owing nearly $800,000 in loans, while only having $16,666 in the bank, transit officials predict. That amount owed could be reduced by about $200,000 if the transit authority receives the additional funding, documents show.

The $1 million total that the transit authority is requesting is about $500,000 less than what was originally projected when board members met with city and county officials about the funding problem this month.

Jackson said it is still too early to predict whether additional cuts are in store for the bus service.

Reichert said of the two requests, loaning money to cover the federal grant is more feasible. However, as the fiscal year starts to wind down, the city’s budget gets increasingly tighter, he said, and there’s no telling when the rest of the federal money might come in so the city and county can be repaid.

“We’ve got more demands for money than we’ve got money,” Reichert said.

Hart called the proposals temporary solutions to a long-term problem. He said the local legislative delegation should get involved and see what kind of taxing solutions may be available to the transit authority. The only two other transit authorities in the state, in Atlanta and Savannah, are supported partially by a tax, he said.

As for a short-term fix, Hart said, he would like to focus on immediate needs and see if the city and county can hold off on funding the authority’s request in full.

“I think it will be tough to do either, but we need to look at it,” he said.

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.