Information shared during a Wilkes Transportation Authority board meeting Tuesday indicated that the public transit’s finances have stabilized as the search for a new director continues.

Angie Gentry, WTA finance director, shared revenue and expense figures indicating a balance of at least $50,000 by the middle of next week. “I’ve been here (employed by WTA) for a year and a half, and this is the best financial shape we’ve been in during that period,” said Gentry.

Wilkes County Commissioner Gary Blevins said WTA has made an impressive financial turnaround. He attributed this to Gentry’s efforts and the leadership of Gary Page as interim WTA director and now Cecil Wood in the interim position. Both are former Wilkes County managers.

“If you get the right people in charge, this organization can be successful and can help the folks in Wilkes County who need help the most, and not require a lot of funding from the county,” Blevins added.

He said a reduction in administrative staff, as recommended by the N.C. Division of Public Transportation, also helped. Wood said the current WTA staff should be commended.

It was stated in the meeting that WTA hasn’t had to use $15,000 approved earlier this year by the Wilkes County commissioners, who also are serving as the WTA board as a result of action the commissioners took in 2018. The commissioners at the meeting Tuesday were Keith Elmore, chairman of the commissioners and the WTA board, David Gambill and Blevins. Commissioners Eddie Settle and Brian Minton were out of town.

The $15,000 was the most recent unbudgeted appropriation made by the county to help WTA meet its payroll and other financial obligations.

Gentry said WTA’s funding on hand includes $18,000 she recently recouped in sales tax refunds from the state after realizing WTA wasn’t filing to receive this, even though WTA is eligible for sales tax refunds as a government entity.

She said $18,000 was refunded for 2018, 2017 and 2016 and added that refunds are restricted to no more than three back years. “Going forward, we will file for sales tax refunds at the end of each year,” she said. WTA pays sales tax on vehicle parts and repairs and other products and services, except not fuel tax.

Gentry said driver overtime is coming down with the hiring of two new drivers and possibly two more soon.

She said WTA is still due the remainder of this year’s Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) grant, which comes from the N.C. Department of Transportation but is passed through county government. Elmore said this is about $16,000.

Gentry said WTA is thriving and had 412 trips scheduled Wednesday, which left the agency without enough vans so it had to rent two from Dwight Phillips Auto in Wilkesboro.

She said one WTA van has been out of service for three months to have a transmission rebuilt and another WTA van is out for repairs due to a wreck on Second Street, North Wilkesboro, in late August.

Concern was voiced during the meeting about the length of time the transmission work is taking. The work is under warranty.

Also in the meeting, Wood said the he recently sent an email to R. Lawrence Young, a certified public accountant in Raleigh, asking if he has all of the information he needed from WTA for his forensic audit on WTA finances but hadn’t received a reply. Gentry said she provided Young everything he requested.

County Attorney Tony Triplett said during the meeting that Young is probably busy assisting clients with tax returns instead of working on the forensic audit of WTA finances.

The WTA board approved a contract with Young for the forensic audit in late December. A forensic audit is conducted for use as evidence in court, typically for prosecution of some type of financial malfeasance. Earlier financial reviews raised questions regarding WTA finances.

Wood has confirmed that starting in November, LogistiCare will be the broker for WTA services funded by Medicaid and Medicare through Blue Cross Blue Shield and United Health Care. He said this accounts for 80-90 percent of the public transit’s clients.

He said WTA would lose revenue under LogistiCare’s current proposed pay scale for services. For example, Wood said WTA services last month that brought in $68,000 would drop to $45,000 under the proposed LogistiCare pay scale.

“The big discrepancy comes from the way they (LogistiCare) treat trips over 10 miles long. They go to a per mileage rate” after 10 miles. Wood said over 100 of WTA’s 900-plus trips in January included a leg over 10 miles long.

If the 10-mile legs were removed, he said, the agency would make about $1,000 more under the proposed LogistiCare pay scale. “This isn’t a lot of money when you consider that things can vary quite a bit, but it tells me we’re going to be in a break-event situation with LogistiCare, other than those 10-mile legs.”

Wood said he doesn’t know if WTA has the option under its proposed contracts with Logisticare to drop trips over 10 miles long, or if county officials want to deny making those trips.

The WTA board (Elmore, Blevins and Gambill) voted to give Wood authority to negotiate WTA’s contract with LogistiCare for Medicaid- and Medicare-funded trips.

There was agreement that it would be hard for any private transportation entity to provide these services and make a profit since it wouldn’t receive state grants.

Wood also noted that the N.C. Division of Transportation hasn’t dropped its push for regional consolidation of public transit agencies like WTA. It was noted that state grants for public transportation give the division clout.

The board went into closed session to discuss personnel matters, apparently regarding hiring a new director. Elmore said in an interview later that there are good prospects for a new WTA director.

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