scott felton

Felton

It’s going to be a long process, but McLennan County commissioners have taken a first step toward the creation of a new transportation district that would extend services to the rural parts of the county and offer Saturday services.

The court approved Tuesday a declaration of intent to create the rural transit district.

If the district comes to fruition — the process to get there would take several months — it won’t be without collateral damage.

The Heart of Texas Council of Governments, which is responsible for rural on-demand transit, will lose about $500,000 in funding from the county, County Judge Scott Felton said.

HOTCOG executive director Russell Devorsky said he thinks the $500,000 estimate for McLennan County’s portion is a little high, but he wasn’t sure of the exact amount.

Devorsky said HOTCOG has not discussed the possibility of the largest of its six counties leaving the program, which has a total budget of $1.2 million, and has only heard about the county’s discussions through the media.

“If McLennan County leaves and they take half of the operating budget, it will have that effect on the budget,” Devorsky said.

He said if leaders decide to take another route, “we will work closely with McLennan County for a smooth transition.”

HOTCOG president Kay Taylor said that at the board’s last meeting, it approved new contracts with LeFleur Transportation to cover every county and Limestone County — which has its own program — both at a higher rate.

She directed all further comments to Devorsky.

Devorsky said during the last HOTCOG meeting that the organization’s transportation program has been one of its greatest challenges, but the most important, as it touches so many people’s lives.

“We continue to strive to make it better,” he said.

Reaching out

The commissioners court next will reach out to the surrounding incorporated McLennan County cities to discuss the new rural transit district.

Felton said if the new district is created, it will request funds directly from the state that currently flow through HOTCOG for its rural transportation services.

The district would partner with Waco Transit System, which operates urban routes.

“These trips, what they provide to the community are ways for people who have medical needs, who need transportation, to get to the hospital and doctors,” Felton said. “Additionally, if they are below a socioeconomic level, Medicaid pays their trip costs.

“Also, for people going to school and need a cheap way to get from outlying areas to education facilities and amenities, they pay a fee of $3 per trip.”

Modified deal

If the new district is created, Waco Transit would modify its agreement to extend service hours and start operating on Saturdays.

Waco’s workforce plays a large role in what is marketed when the county attempts to bring companies to the area, Felton said, and having the ability to reach potential employees across the county makes the area more attractive to employers.

“We think, rather than getting a 50 percent return under the program we’re utilizing right now, we could get 100 percent,” Felton said.

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