The Gainesville City Council unanimously approved Tuesday taking over the Red Rabbit fixed-route bus service starting July 1, while expressing disappointment with Hall County commissioners for putting it in that position.
The bus service is part of Hall Area Transit, a program of the jointly funded Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center. Commissioners voted last month not to seek about $400,000 in federal funding for the service, putting it in jeopardy.
Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said in a statement that while the council wasn’t happy with the circumstances leading to the agreement, it was in the best interests of the community.
“We are disappointed by the actions of those Hall County commissioners who have withdrawn their support of the community service center services, including the Senior Center, Meals on Wheels, community outreach and public transit,” Bruner read. “The decision by the (Hall County) Board of Commissioners to insert a deadline of June 30, 2014, in the intergovernmental agreement suggest a lack of commitment to the services of the Community Service Center and leaves operation of these vital programs uncertain.”
Commissioner Craig Lutz suggested adding the deadline to the agreement during the commission’s work session Monday. The city has until Friday to apply for the Federal Transit Administration’s money to keep operating the service. Center Director Phillippa Lewis Moss, who attended the meeting, said she was happy with the decision, but it was a long fight. She said she hopes the county approves the agreement at its board meeting today.
The City Council’s statement also expressed a hope for a time when the center won’t be under attack from the county.
“We hope that one day the existence of transit operations and the Community Service Center will longer be under attack and our employees will not have to live in fear for their jobs,” Bruner read.
Moss echoed the sentiments of the council’s remarks.
“I think in the process of some of the commissioners assessing the value of the programs, that there have been some unnecessary remarks and some suggestion that perhaps our operations are less than adequate,” Moss said. “As a professional who’s been doing this work for many decades, I think myself and my staff, we were taken aback by that. Particularly because, with (the) exception of one commissioner, no one of them has ever step(ped) foot on our property or come to visit our clients or interact with them or myself in any way.
“It was startling and unsettling, but it’s not something that’s going to stop us because at the end of the day we’re committed to the residents of this community.”
Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton attended the Gainesville meeting, but declined to comment, saying he was there just to observe.
The agreement between the city and the county transfers the assets and more than a dozen buses to the city, while Gainesville agrees to own and operate the bus system. The city becomes the grantee instead of the county and assumes all liabilities.
Hall County has said it will take full responsibility for the Dial-A-Ride bus service, which is a curbside service.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said it’s a shifting of some liability, but it’s what’s good for the city and the county.
“I hate that a few people don’t feel that way, but we need a transit system,” Dunagan said.
The Hall County commission meets at 3 p.m. The agreement is on the consent agenda.