With much of Tulare County, including the City of Porterville facing not having public transportation in a little more than a week, the Porterville City Council had to consider taking action to deal with the issue at its meeting on Tuesday.

The council approved an action that could have the city contributing up to $1.6 million of its local transportation funds keep much of the county's — and its own — public transit going. But the action came with conditions, including the longterm financial situation of the county's public transit system be addressed.

The Tulare County Regional Transit Authority was formed to oversee the public transportation needs of most of the county. All of the county's cities, with the exception of Visalia which continues to operate its own public transportation, joined the authority with the County of Tulare. The cities of Porterville, Tulare, Lindsay, Woodlake, Farmersville, Dinuba and Exeter and the county came together to form TCRTA.

TCRTA began operating the county's and those cities public transit on July 1. But the TCRTA hasn't had the cash flow to pay for the operation of its public transit and hasn't made any payments for public transit operations in July and August.

If the cash flow situation is rectified immediately, TCRTA would no longer be able to provide public transit beginning on October 1.

Porterville City Manager John Lollis state the County Treasurer was supposed to provide a $5 million loan to TCRTA to meet its cash flow needs. But Lollis said the County Treasurer determined TCRTA wasn't eligible for the loan adding he was “not certain as to why.”

The plan for working capital fell through,” said Lollis about meeting TCRTA's cash flow needs. When talking about that plan was, he said it was supposed to be a loan from the county treasurer. “There was representation that was going to happen,” Lollis said.

Now Lollis said it's his understanding the Tulare County Board of Supervisors will consider approving a $5 million loan from the county general fund at its meeting on September 27. The loan would be paid back over five years with Porterville using up to $1.6 million in its local transportation funds to pay for its share of the loan.

The Porterville City Council was the first affected entity to take up the matter. The City of Tulare and the County of Tulare must also approve similar measures to allow for TRCTA's immediate cash flow needs to be met.

Lollis admitted “this is the cart before the horse type of thing” to ask the council to take the needed action to keep public transit going when “the financial structure hasn't been worked out. I wished this wasn't before you.”

But he added without action “there's a crisis that could start October 1,” adding the “cessation of transportation is a real possibility.”

If you're not in, you're not going to have transportation beginning October 1,” said Lollis if the council took no action.

Council members expressed their concern about taking action without knowing about how the financing of the TRCTA's cash flow needs would be done. But as council member Don Weyhrauch said, “I don't want our transit to stop on October 1. I don't want our people to be stranded.”

Mayor Martha A. Flores also asked if a measure could be approved that placed conditions on its approval, including the condition funds from the city of Porterville not used be reimbursed.

City Attorney Julia Lew told the council it had the option to hold a special meeting to deal with the issue after the September 27 county board meeting to see what action the county board takes. But Flores said with the urgency of the situation she preferred not waiting.

The council unanimously approved a measure for the city to contribute up to $1.6 million in its local transportation funds to help meet TRCTA's cash flow needs so it could continue its operations with Flores, Milt Stowe, Lawana Tate, Kellie Carrillo and Weyhrauch all voting in favor. But the action came with conditions including the County of Tulare and City of Tulare also stipulate what shares they agree to contribute to meet TCRTA's cash flow needs; that whatever funds the city contributes isn't used is reimbursed; and that TCRTA's long-term financial situation is addressed.

Lew noted whatever action is taken only meets a short-time need and isn't a solution. “It's a stop gap, it's all it is,” Lew said.

TCTRA was formed to streamline the county's public transit. Lollis said it was actually formed so much of the rest of the county could emulate what has been done in Porterville. So with that, Richard Tree, was the city's transportation director, was chosen to be TCRTA's director.

But Lollis noted Tree is also TCRTAA's only staff member. “He is an agency of one,” Lollis said. “He hasn't been able to hire any staff because he doesn't have any capital.”

They need you more than you needed them,” said Lollis about the TCTRA's other agencies. He said one reason to form the TCRTA was so others in the county could “implement the things that you have done.”

Lollis noted Tree has secured $30 million for TCRTA for such items as vehicles and infrastructure. There has also been $1 million in Measure R funds contributed to TCTRA.

But while that funding has helped meet the needs for vehicles and infrastructure, TCTRA doesn't have the cash to pay for the operation of its vehicles, which Lollis noted.

Lollis said one goal of TCRTA was to “have a transit system in the rest of the county like yours,” commenting to the council on what the city has.

The problem is, Lollis said, “they want it right now.”

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