Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.
The TAPS Public Transit board of directors agreed to accept settlement agreements with former management provider First Transit and accounting firm Conway Company CPA following a closed executive session Monday afternoon.
With this agreement, TAPS officials said the agency is finally overcoming some long-lasting hurdles that have prevented it from moving forward following a financial crisis in 2015. These difficulties culminated in the departure of former CEO Brad Underwood, the elimination of TAPS on-demand services and reduction in service area, and millions of dollars in debt to the IRS, local vendors and other parties.
“It is one more step forward toward financial recovery and wholeness,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers, vice chairman of the TAPS board of directors, said Monday. “It is an important step, but we still have hurdles remaining.”
Magers declined to comment on the contents of the two settlements, citing ongoing litigation with other parties and fears that releasing details could jeopardize these talks.
“There are still a number of folks we are litigating with, so I can't say anything about it (the settlements),” he said.
The Herald Democrat has requested copies of the agreements under the Texas Public Information Act and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
In a separate item during Monday's meeting, the board accepted its annual audit, which had no modified opinions. The audit however noted that recent financial difficulties have left the agency unable to regularly pay all of its vendors and because of this TAPS has accumulated new debt. As a result, numerous litigation cases are pending, with some expected to result in settlements, the audit says.
The audit found that the liabilities for these cases were valued at $2.13 million at the end of fiscal year 2017 and $1.86 million at the end of 2016's fiscal year.
Following the agency's financial difficulties in 2015, officials moved to sever ties with First Transit, who provided management before and during the financial crisis. This culminated in the transit agency ending its agreement with First Transit and signing a new management agreement with France-based transit management provider Transdev in March 2016.
Calls and emails to First Transit for comment were not immediately returned Monday afternoon.
Magers said that Conway Company was retained prior to his tenure with TAPS and was under contract when he joined the board of directors in early 2015. Representatives with Conway Company declined to comment when contacted Monday afternoon.
The settlement with First Transit follows a settlement filed by the Ohio-based company in 2016 regarding $1.12 million of management service fees that were not paid. In response to the default on its service agreement, TAPS issued a promissory note for the debt that would be paid off in installments throughout the first half of 2016.
However, in the lawsuit First Transit said TAPS missed the first two payments, triggering a clause in the agreement that allowed First Transit to make the entire balance due effective immediately.
“First Transit has requested TAPS pay the amounts due under the note, but TAPS has refused to comply with the terms of the note,” the lawsuit said. “First Transit now seeks full payment of the unpaid amount, including interest, under the note in accordance with the remedies provided in paragraph 2 of the note.”
While there are more issues that still need to be resolved, Magers said the settlement with First Transit specifically represents the elimination of a major concern moving forward.
Magers declined to comment on whether any other settlements were likely to be reached in the near future.