Nine people were selected Thursday to be the governing body of the county’s new rural transportation district.
The board was chosen by county commissioners and the conference committee, which consisted of the 18 McLennan County cities that sent representatives to the meeting.
The board members selected were County Judge Scott Felton, County Commissioner Will Jones, Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., Waco Councilman Kyle Deaver, Bruceville-Eddy Councilman Hal Wilcox, Hallsburg Alderman Rick Wegwerth, Ross Alderman David Filer, McGregor Mayor Pro Tem Frank Leos and Moody Mayor Ken Brown.
Felton said the county now must separate its transportation interests from the Heart of Texas Council of Governments as quickly as possible to get the program on the ground with Waco Transit, which contracts with the city of Waco to provide fixed bus routes.
County officials will reroute state and federal transit money from HOTCOG to the new transit district.
County Attorney Mike Dixon said the move will keep all of McLennan County’s grant money in the county and not split it up to cover HOTCOG’s six-county regional transit program.
“If we were trying to do this on our own without there being an existing urban system, I don’t know if we could do it,” Dixon said.
Felton said the county and Waco get two seats each on the board because commissioners represent all municipalities, and the city of Waco owns most of the infrastructure and equipment that will be used for the rural transit district.
The cities with representatives at the meeting included Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Bruceville-Eddy, Crawford, Gholson, Golinda, Hallsburg, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Lorena, Mart, McGregor, Moody, Robinson, Ross, Waco, West and Woodway.
Dixon recommended the method to select the board that later was unanimously adopted by representatives from the 18 cities in attendance and commissioners.
“It’s hard to come up with a way to pick a board out of the air, and the statute didn’t provide us with much guidance on that,” Dixon said.
Positions are three-year, staggered terms. Two of the nine members of the board will be from the county: One will always be the county judge, who will serve as standing chair of the board, and another will be a member of the commissioners court, selected by the court.
Of the two board members from the city of Waco, one will always be the mayor, and the second a city council member selected by the council.
There also will be one at-large seat selected by a vote from all representatives in the county. The remaining four seats are designed to represent the four regions of the county and will be nominated by city officials in those particular regions.
“Given the timing and the lack of guidance in the statute, this is about the best I could come up with,” Dixon said.
Riesel Mayor Roger Fitzpatrick said it is hard to say at this point how much the rural transit district would be used in his city of more than 1,000 residents.
Hewitt Councilman Travis Bailey said the concept of the program is great, if it is executed properly. But Bailey said he has concerns about what will happen if state funding dries up for the program.
“If the grant runs out, I couldn’t vote for a tax increase to support it,” Bailey said.
Duncan said boundary lines were changed after the 2010 U.S. Census, affecting where Waco Transit buses could travel. Duncan said when that happened, people who were receiving transportation suddenly did not have options for necessities such as traveling to work or medical appointments.
“We didn’t realize that. This will overcome that and provide everyone with one network,” he said.
There have been numerous studies and community groups that all point to lack of transportation as the cause of multiple problems for people in rural areas, whether it is not being able to get to school, work or to receive medical services, Duncan said.
“The jobs are located in places where the people who don’t have cars aren’t, so people getting to work has become a much bigger focus point for the city and the county,” Duncan said.