Local communities increase TAPS funding

Michael Hutchins, Herald Democrat
Grayson County and the cities of Sherman and Denison have increased their local contribution to TAPS Public Transit by 5 percent for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Officials with the transit agency said this will unlock additional federal and state funds that will be used to provide for unmet transit needs in the region. (Drew Smith / Herald Democrat)

Grayson County and the cities of Sherman and Denison will be increasing their local contribution to TAPS Public Transit by five percent for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. This move comes as TAPS looks for ways to increase its funding as demand for transit services outweighs the agency’s ability to provide.

“We are running at a high proficiency, but there is a higher need than we have the funds to provide,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers, who serves as vice chairman for the TAPS Board of Directors, said.

The update came last week as the TAPS board discussed and approved a $2.59 million budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The budget included $214,100 in contributions from local organizations and communities.

The notes for the budget clarified that TAPS has commitments of $214,100. However, based on projected expenses, the agency is expected to need $288,771 in local funding for the year.

“We have submitted funding applications for fiscal year 2018 that we have not been awarded yet; therefore, they are not included in the above budget,” TAPS staff said in documents for the meeting.

As the budget season approached, members of the board discussed the possibility of increasing local funding and approached councils and boards about the possibility. However, only the cities of Sherman and Denison, and Grayson County ultimately increased their funding. A fourth agency, the Cooke County United Way, elected not to contribute $2,500 this fiscal year.

For Grayson County, this 5 percent increase in funding equated to just $4,000 in additional funding. Magers said the increase was incorporated into talks on the recently-passed county budget and was not individually addressed by county commissioners.

With these additional local funds, Magers said the transit agency will hopefully be able to unlock additional funding from the state and federal levels. Magers added that he was uncertain how much additional funding this would provide, noting that different expenses are reimbursed at different rates. Operational costs are reimbursed at a higher rate, he said, while noting that financing for urban and rural services are handled separately.

With additional funding from the state and federal governments, Magers said TAPS will hopefully be able to meet an unmet need for transportation services in the community. At its current levels, the agency has had to turn away riders due to a lack of funding.

“Basically if money were no object, we could provide 30 percent more service,” Magers said. “There are 30 percent more people who we cannot serve right now for the lack of a better term.”

This comes nearly two years after a series of financial issues arose in TAPS that resulted in a major scaling down of its services and service area. During the height of the financial crisis, the city of McKinney and Collin County both left TAPS, while other policies temporarily limited transit services to mostly medical-related trips.

Denied transportation requests have been a recurring topic for TAPS in recent months, as the board has discussed ways of decreasing the number of calls it is unable to meet. Transdev General Manager Josh Walker said TAPS denied 610 ride requests for the month of August with the majority coming from the Sherman-Denison urbanized area.

Earlier this year, the TAPS board approved new procedures for warning and restrictive service to riders who would often cancel trips late or not show up for schedule trips. These trips indirectly contributed to the problem as they took up space and resources that could otherwise be used for other riders.

The board also previously discussed other options and strategies to address the unmet demand, including changes aimed at optimizing trips to carry multiple riders from similar origins to similar destinations. However, TAPS staff said the organization’s trip scheduling software does this automatically.

The city of Denison increased its contribution by 5 percent as a part of its 2017-2018 fiscal budget, bringing its annual contribution to $31,500. This followed a similar increase in funding last year when the city agreed to contribute $30,000.

City Manager Jud Rex said many Denison residents make use of TAPS service, and that played into the city’s decision to provide additional funding. Rex added that the city does not see the 5 percent increase as a major expense, however he said he does not expect to see this trend continue.

“A 5 percent annual increase is not sustainable,” Rex said. “The dollar amount is not a lot, but it is not a good trend.”

Similarly, the city of Sherman also increased its funding, bringing its total annual contribution to $63,000. However, the city has also added additional oversight into its funding, Nate Strauch, Sherman community and support services manager, said in an email.

“We feel like TAPS has stabilized their operations and is heading in the right direction,” Strauch said. “That having been said, we have switched to quarterly payments in order to more tightly control the flow of money and to ensure proper accountability.”