Georgia Department of Transportation officials said they need direction from Hall County and the city of Gainesville because time is running out.
DOT press secretary David Spear said the agency needs to know if the city will operate the Red Rabbit fixed-route bus service by itself by May 10, the U.S. Department of Transportation deadline.
The agency has heard “informally” from the county that it’s unwilling to accept the funds as the applicant so DOT could meet the deadline and do the transfer after that. Gainesville officials have said they want to continue the service.
Spear said DOT needs to know who is the applicant, the county, the city or both, so the agency can make its administrative adjustments and provide enough time if there needs to be public hearings and advertising to educate the public about any change. He said they only have about 10 days to make that happen.
Hall County commissioners declined about $400,000 in grant funding to operate the bus service on April 10.
Hall Area Transit has two main services, Red Rabbit and Dial-A-Ride, which is a curbside service. The services are part of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center and is funded by both the county and city.
“We’re just trying to accommodate them and provide both services, either under one umbrella or two umbrellas, whatever they choose,” Spear said. “We’re hoping they can come to some kind of convergence on how they want to proceed.”
The Federal Transit Administration pays 50 percent of the operating cost for Red Rabbit, and the city and county split the rest 50-50. The service will stop July 1 unless the city decides to take it over.
Gainesville City Manager Kip Padgett said in an email the city hasn’t made a decision. The work session agenda for Thursday doesn’t have the grant listed.
The city and the county both got at least some guidance from DOT officials last week in an email addressed to county grants manager Jessica Robinson and Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard. Richard Mecum, Hall County Board of Commissioners chairman, read part of the email at last week’s board meeting.
“GDOT confirms HAT (Hall Area Transit) is not in danger of losing funds for fiscal year (20)14 if an approved application is submitted to GDOT by May 10,” the email said.
Mayor Danny Dunagan, Councilman George Wangemann and Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said they didn’t know where the city was in the decision process. Dunagan and Figueras both said they were out of town. Dunagan said the city is still committed to operating the service. Councilman Bob Hamrick and Councilwoman Ruth Bruner didn’t return calls for comment.
Wangemann said the City Council members could be individually polled to see if they want it on the agenda for the May 7 meeting. That would bypass the work session. Wangemann said the county has created a big fire and they’re trying to put it out if they can.
“I’m still very concerned about the amount of liability the city would have to underwrite, so to speak,” he said. “Become the grantee. That weighs heavily on my mind.”
Spear said DOT can ask for some latitude from the federal government if it looks like the application isn’t going to be done in time, but there’s no guarantee extra time would be given. The deadline could be extended due to dueling over the budget between Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration.
“There’s a lot of things that have to be undone and redone,” Spear said. “The sooner we can get an indication, the better off we’ll be. It’s not the eleventh hour right now, but it’s getting very close to it.”