Idaho Falls’ public transit system has completely dissolved over the last week, but questions remain about its outstanding debts and financial concerns.
The majority of Targhee Regional Public Transportation Authority employees were laid off at the end of the day on Tuesday, while the few that remained were let go at the end of Friday. Those workers were supposed to receive their final paychecks and reimbursements Friday morning, only to be told that the agency’s account did not have enough funds to cover the final weeks of work.
Nearly a dozen former workers visited the TRPTA office Friday morning to pick up their final paycheck, only to be told the company account did not have enough funds on hand.
The final checks would have covered two full weeks of work, the final two days of business for TRPTA that ended on Tuesday and the outstanding balance for PTO and vacation. Multiple drivers estimated that they were owed around $1,500.
“I think eventually we will get all of it. But it would not surprise me one bit if they prolonged it out, given how much debt TRPTA was in,” former driver Dawn Williams said.
“The payroll is the most important thing right now. We will find a way to take care of that first,” interim board chairman Dave Radford said.
Board members remain optimistic about the potential for federal grants to help them.
The agency had outstanding balances from Federal Transit Administration grants that had been approved before it audited TRPTA in 2018 and froze the majority of its funds.
A Federal Transit Administration statement agreed there were previous funds that “may be eligible for operational and administrative expenses such as payroll. However, under federal law, TRPTA is required to provide local matching funds for any FTA funds expended.”
The board of directors elected not to appoint a check signator or grant manager during its emergency meeting Thursday. Radford said the board did not plan to add any new members to replace the two who had resigned this week and the remaining board members likely will pick up those jobs if no volunteers can be found.
Councilwoman Michelle Ziel-Dingman, the Idaho Falls’ representative on the TRPTA board, said the city would lead the way in handling the next steps for the agency. The city council is scheduled to discuss a local match for public transit at Monday’s work session. The city had already paid half of the $140,000 it provides annually to TRPTA this year but council members chose to withhold the most recent payment in April.
Some local agencies have expressed interest in helping re-establish TRPTA or another public transportation company in the city. Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership Executive Director Jay Doman attended Thursday’s emergency board meeting to express the nonprofit’s interest in the future of the busing program.
“We have a vested interest in what TRPTA’s meant for us. Our senior service is the most heavily impacted by this,” Doman said.
EICAP had reimbursed the agency for more than 18,000 rides for senior citizens during the last fiscal year and nearly 14,000 additional rides provided between July and April.
In addition to the debts owed to the Federal Transit Administration and the former employees, the agency must also cover a number of other outstanding balances. Radford said that the janitorial staff and a number of vendors have not been paid in more than a month. TRPTA’s legal counsel, Sam Angell, has been working without pay since the partial government shutdown temporarily froze the agency’s account in January.
TRPTA’s remaining assets will be sold in an effort to pay down its outstanding debts. The agency proposed setting aside 85 percent of the money from the buses and 90 percent from selling the headquarters at 1810 Broadway to cover the debts.
Handling those assets going forward is not a clear-cut path. Angell said that because TRPTA was a public entity created by the voters of Bonneville County, its remaining assets should be turned over to the county commissioners to handle. However, 19 of the 41 vehicles in the fleet have titles through the Idaho Transportation Department and the specific future for each vehicle will need to be determined.
“I do feel like we will be able to move toward a resolution on this quickly,” Ziel-Dingman told the board.
As for the building, the agency rented out office space for the Bonneville Municipal Planning Organization in October. The group had paid a year’s rent at the time and will need to find a new space before the building can be sold.