05/23/11 — GATEWAY official says no plans for 'takeover'

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GATEWAY official says no plans for 'takeover'

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 23, 2011 1:46 PM

When the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners notified GATEWAY it was dissolving its benefit pool, it meant more than 60 employees were in danger of losing their health insurance coverage beginning July 31.

With less than 90 days to secure a coverage plan, director Trey Rhodes said it sent him and his staff into a scramble to prevent a lapse in coverage.

"It kind of put us in a bind because we went shopping for insurance, and if you're trying to get quotes for health insurance, they want at least 60 days to prepare one," he said. "We had providers that would not give us quotes because of the turnaround time and others that were just hesitant about giving us quotes."

That, and the importance of securing a benefits package for his employees, made the decision Tuesday morning by the Wayne County commissioners to allow GATEWAY onto the county plan good news.

"Because of the time it takes, and it's a long process on the insurance provider's part, we're real appreciative of the county commissioners doing that," Rhodes said.

He explained that the move to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina wouldn't cost the county or taxpayers anything because GATEWAY will pay all of the associated costs, reimbursing the county the whole way.

But he was a bit surprised that the board's discussion surrounding the insurance absorption included concern from two commissioners that the move would be the first toward the county taking the transportation organization over entirely.

"I've not heard any discussion about the county taking GATEWAY as a county department," he said. "I don't know if that's just something that they're talking about or what."

Rhodes, who was not at the meeting, was also adamant that District 4 Commissioner Steve Keen's concerns with the organization's profitability were non-issues.

Because GATEWAY is an organization with a fused urban and rural transportation system, money is received from various levels of government. The urban side is funded by federal funds that the city must match and the rural side is funded by state funds that the county must match. He also addressed Keen's concern that fare revenue was not allowing the organization to be self-sufficient.

"In any municipality, public transportation is set up that way," he said of the matching funds. "If we upped the fares to pay the bills, then the people who need the service couldn't ride."

Rhodes said GATEWAY's entire purpose is affordable transportation and that the government subsidies assured fares could remain low. His organization aims not only to provide for those who don't have personal transportation, but also for those who have vehicles and are financially or environmentally conscious.

"We're trying to make GATEWAY a choice system with gas prices going up like they are," he said. "Now, even if I have a car, I have a choice."

GATEWAY's deal with the county keeps the employees on the plan for one year, with a re-evaluation planned after six months.

"Then we're going to come back and look at everything and see if we need to continue," he said. "That way, if it's not favorable for the county we would have time to make other arrangements."

Another item discussed at the meeting focused on empty buses, to which Rhodes provided statistics indicating that GATEWAY is serving its purpose. In 2010 GATEWAY moved 227,000 people and averages between 12,000 and 14,000 in the city and nearly 8,000 in the county each month.