04/24/11 — GATEWAY weighs moving personnel

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GATEWAY weighs moving personnel

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 24, 2011 1:50 AM

The Goldsboro-Wayne Transportation Authority is asking county commissioners to take on GATEWAY personnel as county employees as another step in not only restructuring the transit system, but making it a quasi-county department.

If commissioners go along with the plan, the workers would be county employees, entitled to county benefits, who are leased back to GATEWAY.

It is not a new arrangement. It already is being used for GATEWAY director Trey Rhodes and operations manager Terry Jordan.

County Manager Lee Smith has said restructuring is an attempt to change the direction in which the system is headed. Also, an insurance plan GATEWAY employees were covered under is no longer being offered by the association. As county employees, they could be eligible for insurance.

"Part of what has to happen is if you say you want to pursue this, then I will need to take it back to the board of commissioners for their consideration," Smith told the GATEWAY board this past week. "I will tell you I have talked with a couple of them individually and they did ask did the city want to do this.

"I told them I don't really care how it goes. It is just right now we already had Trey and Terry in our system and it just was easy. If the city wants to do the whole, then that is fine, too."

Authority member and City Councilman Bob Waller said he would not recommend it for the city.

"I think we have got it going like it should be," Waller said. "We don't want to mess up what you have got. What would the city's cost be? Are you going to lease back to the city to have a share in this?"

Smith said the cost would be incorporated into the budget. However, no specific amounts were discussed.

"There is going to be a cost here of doing business for the city because if you have urban folks on the urban system, whereby they have money they draw down," Smith said. "As they are drawing down state and federal funds to run the urban side, they make a match as a city."

Employees assigned to the urban side of the operation would be the cost to the city, said Pam Holt, board member and county finance officer.

"Your cost is the match (for state and federal dollars)," Smith said. "Part of this needs to be clearly understood. Coming on with the county, the employees they need to understand that they start off on a probationary status for the first six months. You as a board can make a recommendation and the county would have ultimate say of hire and fire.

"But I have a couple of hurdles to jump with my board. They do have a concern about the county taking on more. It is a valid concern -- how much responsibility is the county taking on?"

"If commissioners decide not to, what is our fallback?" board chairman and City Councilman Don Chatman said.

"That is my concern because the association has left us kind of in a lurch pulling out as quick as they did," Smith said. "You would be hard-pressed to get anything, any sort of insurance. I don't know what we would do. I don't know because we are out June 30."

Several area counties are facing the same issues, Jordan said.

The alternative is to join something like Blue Cross Blue Shield and that is not cheap, he said.

"My recommendation is to bring it under the county, but I have some board members with strong concerns and they are valid concerns," Smith said. "I think it is the right thing to do. Do we stay this way? Maybe not, but for right now I think that it is a good alternative. We are wanting to provide some administration support to the GATEWAY folks here and the one thing we have said as we studied GATEWAY is that we want some consistency in the operations of GATEWAY. I think working with city county in partnering this way will do that more."

Waller said strides have been made to improve GATEWAY.

"It would not be, in the full definition of the word, a county department because we are leasing back," Smith said. "It is a little different. Then we would have some expectation of if there were certain costs that would be incurred, be it workers' compensation those kind of things, that we draw down as much as we can money (the city receives) from the state, federal government, grants, whatever would cover those costs."

Smith said he would suggest that commissioners hold a work session to discuss the issue and that GATEWAY board members should be present.

In other business, no one spoke at a public hearing on the annual application for grant through the state Community Transportation Program.

It is a standard annual practice, Jordan said.

GATEWAY is requesting $461,220 for administration; $228,300 for capital; and $42,327 for operating.