Hendry will seek collaboration on public transit

CLEWISTON — Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner brought up the public transit issue again this month, following up on the county commission’s discussion back in January about continuing to finance the GoodWheels program.

“On Jan. 22, we had a presentation by Alan Mandel (executive director), and none of us were receptive to continuing with that GoodWheels program,” he said at their meeting April 9, asking County Administrator Jennifer Davis, “I think the way it is right now, is that the county is paid up for GoodWheels for the year, so we’re not going to look at a program until the following fiscal year. Or what are your thoughts?”

“Yes. We’re planning on applying (for a state Department of Transportation grant program called 5311) by the end of this calendar year because that’s the deadline, in December. But it’s for the following year, so it’s 2021, I believe, that those funds via the state, if we were awarded, would go toward a program,” Ms. Davis explained. “And so we’re trying to figure out a step forward for next fiscal year (2020), something in between to bridge the gap, because the gap seems like it keeps growing … in terms of services that are being provided for our constituents.

“And so we don’t have it all figured out as of now,” she went on, “but we do have our own transportation budget.” She said she’d confer with Shane Parker, public works director, and “see if we couldn’t find some other partners. We’ve had a few meetings with the Community Foundation and some folks like that, who might have some funds — just trying to think out of the box and other ways to potentially fund this issue.”

Mr. Turner noted that there was “$275,000 awarded not just to Hendry but to FDOT District 1 as an entirety (it takes in 12 counties); but nothing from District 4, which is West Palm, Martin and Broward; and Miami-Dade, which is District 6. There was a time when they were putting money into our kitty as well. So I’d like us to entertain engaging that discussion … but that’s a big effort.”

Commissioner Darrell Harris asked whether GoodWheels’s contract was up in December. Ms. Davis replied that “they have a contract with the Transportation Plannning Organization, and I think it’s coming up to designate the CTC (community transportation coordinator).” She said the TPO has to appoint or elect a CTC for the area, and then the CTC is eligible for various grant funds. “And so it’s a several-step process.”

Mr. Harris asked whether GoodWheels is continuing its services locally through fiscal 2020, and Mr. Turner clarified that they are through that October. “Then, obviously, we would cue them up for another $45,000 and they would probably do what they’re doing now. But,” he continued, “I think that our whole ask is that we want to see that level of service increased. And so, just looking at the different pots of money that are out there, I think that it’s something we ought to delve into.”

He said he did appreciate that Director Mandel “said they would help us” and also that there was a transportation meeting with FDOT and GoodWheels set in Glades County. “Did that occur?” he asked Commissioner Emma Byrd, who replied that it was set for April 24.

“We could really bring a better level of service,” said Mr. Turner. Referring to fellow Commissioner Michael Swindle’s position as Career and Technical Education coordinator for the Hendry County School District, he said, “I look at Mike’s program … and I know that transportation is an issue. Imagine if you had a bus stop out in front of U.S. Sugar that was taking some of their laborers … to take them to a facility where they could get another certification. I know that the Southwest Florida Community Foundation would be all about trying to sponsor something like that.”

Ms. Davis said the foundation “gave us a few other ideas … of what some areas do … and some partnerships that probably we wouldn’t have thought of on our own.”

She said they would look into other possible collaborations, as well as specifically what DeSoto County has been doing with its DART program.

They also will look for surplus buses from other counties “just to kind of get us going.” There’s a timing issue as far as applying for funding, she said.

Mr. Turner suggested that Commissioner Byrd seek out contact with Mack Bernard, mayor of Palm Beach County, about possibly getting a surplus van or bus or two from them because that county’s transit programs are so large that they swap out vehicles regularly.

Mr. Harris also suggested checking with Collier County, where former Hendry County Administrator Charles Chapman is city manager (in Naples) these days.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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