FTHRA receives green light to apply to FTA for federal funding

Published 4:09 pm Monday, March 27, 2017

Local officials in Northeast Tennessee took steps forward Monday morning to look at long-term solutions for continual use of services offered by NET Trans.
The Executive Board and Executive Staff of the Johnson City Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization met inside the Johnson City Transit building and passed a resolution allowing First Tennessee Human Resource Agency (FTHRA) Executive Director Jason Cody to apply to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to become a direct recipient of federal funding to service the urban to urban travel within the Johnson City urbanized area.
Cody added the FTHRA, which implemented NET Trans, has committed to use the short-term emergency funding offered by the state to allow transportation to continue via urban to urban travel in the urbanized area until July 1 — meaning residents in Elizabethton and Hampton, who are part of the Johnson City urbanized area, and Bristol and Kingsport areas, will not see any service interruption for the time being as deliberations continue on a viable long-term solution.”
“It was critical that this resolution passed today,” said Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey. “Based on the information I have, TDOT has made clear that we have to make the application for the funding through FTA. The next steps will be, if or when funding is approved, is to come back to this board again to look at different appropriations, if any. As (TDOT rep) Liza (Joffrion) said today, this is an opportunity for us to not see any decreases. We’re hoping there may be additional funds so we can maintain the service we have now plus the possibility of increasing the service area.
“First Tennessee Human Resource Agency already has the infrastructure in place to provide service and we want to find a long-term solution so there is absolutely no interruption to service for any of our constituents,” the mayor added.
Humphrey made the motion to pass the resolution, which was seconded by Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch. While the idea of continuing service was fully supported by all members, Johnson City Commissioner Joe Wise — who served as chairman of the board for the absent Johnson City Mayor David Tomita — added an amendment to have the resolution pass, conditioned on NET Trans continuing its normal service during the short-term timeframe of July 1 with no changes.
While the resolution and amendment passed unanimously by a 9-0 vote, Wise’s second amendment request that NET Trans continue its normal service without changes was disagreed on by Humphrey.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, who seconded Wise’s first amendment, said after the meeting he couldn’t second the other amendment due to concerns of the TDOT formula in regards to funding.
“(FTHRA) is committed,” Humphrey said. “We heard that here today. We want to continue on and we want to make certain this happens because it could be so disastrous for these people that use (NET Trans) their appointments with doctors, and even people that use the public transit for employment. It could have a serious negative economic impact if any interruption occurs.”
Kingsport MPTO Coordinator Troy Ebbert was on hand for the meeting and added that he has not heard from NET Trans about getting on their own agenda to their meeting. Director of NET Trans Candace Gump refuted the statement by adding she did contact the department last Friday and spoke to Ebbert over the phone.
Kingsport Area Transportation Service (KATS) also added the department has continually lost funding over the years due to a formula issue through TDOT.
Chris Jones, mayor of Mount Carmel in Hawkins County, also spoke and addressed the concern of the issue just now coming up after the reported audit came up years ago.
“We’re here at the 12-o’clock hour now,” Humphrey said. “It’s one of the things where nobody likes to put out fires but we’re there. It’s been a problem for quite some time and it is imperative that we get everybody at the table and work toward these long-term solutions to ensure no one specific is negatively impacted.”
Along with Carter County, the City of Elizabethton was represented on the board by Planning and Development Director Jon Hartman, who set on the board for Mayor Curt Alexander.
MPTOs of Johnson City, Kingsport and Bristol with meet with TDOT representation in April for a regional roundtable discussion to help address the issues of transportation services within urbanized areas of Northeast Tennessee.

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