Privatized bus service approved

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An audience of concerned Augusta Public Transit employees was on hand for the Augusta Commission's 6-3 decision Tuesday to privatize management of the city bus system.

"What I've heard is they're really not going to hold on to drivers for two years," said Monica Stevenson, a dispatcher who went with a dozen other transit workers to see the commission vote. "A lot of people are worried they're going to lose their jobs."

Though they will cease to be city employees, about 70 bus drivers, mechanics and other staffers will be retained at existing wages when Mobility Transit LLC takes over management of the bus service, according to details of the Knoxville, Tenn., company's proposal that have been released.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles' motion to award the bid to Mobility Transit saw much discussion by Commissioners Bill Lockett, Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson, who voted against it. Commissioner Johnny Hatney, who has spoken out against the proposal, was absent Tuesday.

Johnson reiterated his concern that options for improving the system from within have not been exhausted, and gave Athens, Ga., as one bus system that did not thrive under private management.

"If we go out and just immediately privatize sections of our government, then we're taking it out of the hands of the people," he said to cheers, which Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked the audience to hold down.

Mason questioned the savings the city actually would see. Mobility Transit has said it will trim $400,000 from the $5 million annual cost to the city.

"If we're still paying out $4.6 million in the hole, then it's still not clear what it is ... we're actually going to get," Mason said.

Said Bowles of the city's projected 2011 deficit of $8 million to $10 million: "Those numbers don't lie. We need to start seeing some solutions besides 'no, no, no.' "

Lockett said the blame for the bus system's predicament shouldn't fall on longtime Director Heyward Johnson.

A riders' group has raised numerous complaints about the service's timeliness and drivers' manners, and the system brought in just 13.4 percent of its budget from fares during the first quarter, according to the city finance department.

"We give huge pay increases for those at the top," Lockett said. "At the same time we want to punish those at the bottom. Those employees did not get us in the predicament that we're in now. Let's not blame Heyward Johnson for the problems that transportation is having, because Heyward Johnson has a supervisor, and he is our administrator."

Commissioner Jerry Brigham said numerous transit solutions had been offered over the years but all were voted down.

"I don't see where we have any alternative," Brigham said.

Mobility Transit CEO Kevin Adams, who was on hand for the bid award, said the company intends to provide employees with annual salary increases and will cut costs by improving scheduling and other efficiencies, not by cutting staffers or service. Riders will benefit from clean, timely buses furnished with on-board cameras and GPS, he said.

Bowles' motion was to accept the bid but to have City Administrator Fred Russell, who was out Tuesday, finalize details of a contract. Adams has said Mobility Transit can make the transition in 45 days.

Division Continues

Besides the transit proposal, Commissioners Bill Lockett, Alvin Mason and Corey Johnson also voted against nine amendments that incorporate aspects of the city restructuring plan and new personnel manual into the city code. Lockett said he considered the changes "major business" that should have required eight votes to pass, not the six General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said were needed.

However, the trio succeeded for the third time in defeating an amendment removing "at the courthouse" from the city charter, leaving unclear whether the commission will meet in Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building or the new courthouse.

"I don't think you'll find anyone in that room that likes the situation right now," Mayor Deke Copenhaver said of the division after the meeting, adding that cities everywhere are "looking at different ways of doing business."

A final commission divide fell Tuesday over Mason's attempt to publicly question Deputy Administrator Bill Shanahan about his decision overruling a finding by the city Equal Employment Opportunity Office that Fire Lt. William Dickerson had been discriminated against when he was denied a promotion. Six commissioners voted to table the issue.

Randall Kea, who attended the meeting with Dickerson, said afterward that an "expired list" of firefighters eligible for promotions that was the subject of Dickerson's EEO complaint remained in use, unfairly. Dickerson said he intended to follow up his complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC investigates federal discrimination complaints.

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No_Longer_Amazed
5143
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 05/17/11 - 07:46 pm
0
0
IMO this is another part of a

IMO this is another part of a "shell game" that A-RC government is playing.

On the news tonight there was an item about the way that the "money saving" reorganization included moving 6 pieces of road sweeping equipment and how solid waste fees will have to be increased to pay the salaries for the 6 operators, who WERE NOT transferred with the equipment/mission.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 05/17/11 - 08:27 pm
0
0
Take it out of the hands of

Take it out of the hands of the people....LOL...you mean you are taking away some power from a few commissoners who prefer controlling everything and hiring their friends and family, etc.

Just like our public golf course where specific commissoners wish to keep subsidizing golf for their buddies to have a place to play for less than it actually costs...or in many cases absolutely free.

Thank You Very Much to the 6 commissoners using good judgement.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/17/11 - 08:53 pm
0
0
i hope this improves things

i hope this improves things but for some reason i doubt it will. i think some working people are gonna lose their pensions and some will ose their jobs and someone will make a profit and taxpayers will apy about the same amount anyway.

HR71C10
0
Points
HR71C10 05/17/11 - 09:48 pm
0
0
Asitisinaug, I disagree with

Asitisinaug, I disagree with your statement about the six commissioners. While I think we all agree that SOMETHING needs to be done, why did we have to vote tonight about something that numerous people still have questions and concerns about? I am a county employee. These transit employees will not only be let go at the end of two years, but they'll lose their pension, their medical and dental, and every other perk that offsets the lack of pay that we receive. Commissioner Guilfoyle hit the nail on the head with employees not receiving any adjustment in pay in the last 3-5 yrs. In addition to no pay raises, we've got higher insurance rates, and furlough days that come out of 24 of our 26 checks this year. How well can you do paying more insurance, and losing 1.88% of your pay on almost every check you receive. Furthermore, how can Fred Russell hire Shanahan at $117000 a year but we're broke? I don't think so. I am off topic so let me refocus. In who's mind does privatizing the transit system but keeping the buses under city ownership make sense. If a company wants to take over, THEY take over by buying and operating their own buses without aid or assistance from the government. As it was said in the meeting, businesses are in business to make money. However, when that money comes on the backs of the taxpayers (including me, a Richmond County citizen) there is a problem. If they want to privatize it, fine. Let that company come in, buy the buses, hire the people, and do it their way. Why oh why, though, are we letting them come in, let them use everything the taxpayers have paid for, and make money off of it. At the very least, make them lease the buses we paid for and also give the soon to be unemployed transit employees a decent way out of a situation they didn't cause. Interdepartmental transfers are a good way to start. For $400,000, THIS IS NOT WORTH IT.

OhWell
326
Points
OhWell 05/17/11 - 09:48 pm
0
0
The employees of the transit

The employees of the transit authority are upset because they know they will no longer be able to do the poor job they do now and still get paid. Heyward Johnson could not lead a bunch of thirsty horses to a watering hole. Drivers and dispatchers will no longer be able to have their rude attitudes and may have to actually assist the riders with pick up times and schedules. Buses will run on schedule for all people and drivers will no longer be able to wait on their friends that are not at the bus stop on time making the bus late for riders further down the line. Drivers will hopefully be kind to our elderly veterans who can't move as fast as the driver would like them to. Riders in wheel chairs will feel welcome not be made to feel they are a burden. I know these things happened be cause I rode the bus for about 3 months on a regular basis.

ColCo
539
Points
ColCo 05/17/11 - 10:13 pm
0
0
HR71C10 - Try losing half

HR71C10 - Try losing half your income, paying all your insurance, getting no paid vacation, enduring higher costs on virtually everything, and having to work the same number of days as before, if not more. A few furlough days is a walk in the park compared to what many of us small business owners have endured the last few years, and as a taxpayer, I have grown weary of Commissioners who act like union reps for city employees as opposed to representing the people who elected them.

HR71C10
0
Points
HR71C10 05/17/11 - 10:25 pm
0
0
ColCo- While I respect your

ColCo- While I respect your opinion and perspective, if you are a small business owner, I am sure you far surpassed MY income level from last year. Apples to oranges maybe, but as a small business owner, YOU have to plan accordingly to make sure you have your bases covered. If you have employees, they depend on you to make sure they have paychecks, benefits, etc. As to your comment about commissioners representing the people who elected them, do you feel YOUR elected commissioner is adequately representing you? Another question, do you live in Richmond county or in Columbia? Which county is your business located? The reason I ask is because I live and work in the same county. I have a vested interest in this. If you live and work in different counties, I believe that your view (like mine) is one sided. Again, no disrespect intended. Thank you for the intelligent conversation.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 05/17/11 - 11:46 pm
0
0
HR71C10, I will do my best to

HR71C10, I will do my best to respond to each of your comments.

First, I respect your right to disagree and in fact disagreement can be good at times to spark conversation and debate.

Something does need to be done and this has been studied for over a year and discussed often for over 2 months - if businesses operated at this slow of a pace and by consensus, they would fail to remain in business. Bottom line is that more than enough time has been spent on this one issue and no matter when they reached a decision, it would not please everyone either way they went but it has been debated, discussed and studied more than long enough.

You are making an assumption that that these employees will be fired after two years. Any good business person knows that good employees are hard to find so in my opinion, if they are doing a good job, they will most likely not lose their job but could actually advance further within a good company. Either way, it is not the responsibility of government to employ people and at a loss of over $5 million per year (not including many things you mention such as retirement), change was needed a long time ago. As for their pay and benefits it is comparable and actually exceeds many within the public transportation industry. I am not saying that some or all are not deserving but this is tax money we are talking about and it needs to be spent appropriately. Public transportation is NOT a requirement of any government as compared to Public Safety that also have received pay cuts, drastic reductions in manpower and budget, etc. even compared to Transportation. When you compare a non-required function of government to a prime directive of government, you must being to spend the dollars wisely. I do agree however that the commission could simply raise the fees appropriately to provide for better funding of the department and if they would allow this of the private company for better salaries/benefits then it would be perfectly fine. However, again, the current salaries/benefits match others within the same industry and even exceed some.

As you said, Commissioner Guilfoyle hit the nail on the head with employees not receiving any adjustment in pay in the last 3-5 yrs. In addition to no pay raises, we've got higher insurance rates, and furlough days that come out of 24 of our 26 checks this year. How well can you do paying more insurance, and losing 1.88% of your pay on almost every check you receive." I 100% agree with Guilfoyle and your re-posing of his statements. However, in my opinion the only way to even begin correcting this is to greatly reduce spending on all non-essential and/or non-required government services from transportation to the arts to public golf, etc. This county is short $9 million dollars for this year alone - Drastic Changes need to take place and that does not include the raising of taxes because if you haven't noticed, many tax payers are leaving Augusta for Columbia and Aiken Counties which means we will have less tax revenue and more need for services.

"Furthermore, how can Fred Russell hire Shanahan at $117000 a year but we're broke? I don't think so." I again 100% agree and think that every commissioner who approved this is wrong. The same goes for the legal division, commissioners taking trips, paying for gas, cell phones, ridiculous studies, etc.

You asked, "In who's mind does privatizing the transit system but keeping the buses under city ownership make sense. If a company wants to take over, THEY take over by buying and operating their own buses without aid or assistance from the government. As it was said in the meeting, businesses are in business to make money. However, when that money comes on the backs of the taxpayers (including me, a Richmond County citizen) there is a problem." Well, where do we start. First, privatization has worked well in many cities in areas of transportation and most other services. This business will still show a profit while at the same time having to follow all of the rules put forth upon them by the commission, to include no raise in fees, selection of routes, keeping employees that may/may not be the best for the job, etc. Actually though, again, I agree with you 100% and I bet 5 of the commissioners do as well but know they could never get your suggestion passed. We should shut down the entire system and allow a private company to charge an appropriate fee that will cover expenses and allow for profits. If it makes it, great and if not, well then it isn't an essential part of government and we just saved over $5 million per year so 60% of our budget problem each year is solved.

You say, "If they want to privatize it, fine. Let that company come in, buy the buses, hire the people, and do it their way. Why oh why, though, are we letting them come in, let them use everything the taxpayers have paid for, and make money off of it. At the very least, make them lease the buses we paid for and also give the soon to be unemployed transit employees a decent way out of a situation they didn't cause." Again, I agree but not with strings attached such as what they can charge - this is a government subsidized program so it is still be subsidized even though privatized to provide for better service, more routes and less expense.

Current county employees certified or trained to work in other areas already get preferential treatment in job selection within the county so if they are qualified to transfer, that should not be a problem.

You may not think saving nearly 1/2 a million a year isn't worth it but that reduces the current spending on transportation by nearly 10% - frankly that is a great savings for tax payers.

Also, I see where you are a tax payer and a transit driver. Exactly how many tax payers do you think are using this system which costs the tax payers over $5 million per year. If you were only looking at this from a cost analysis vs. essential services perspective, you would see that this is a good start but actually far more needs to be done. Even this minimal amount of savings took almost a year of fighting and months of discussion so I am proud of the 6 that made the tough decision (it is never easy to let employees go) and put the county one step forward in the right direction.
Although it may not seem as if I do, I do in fact appreciate and respect the service of the employees of the transportation department. I know this is personal for them so basically no amount or reason or justification will change anything. Government and our Leaders are having to make tough decisions all over and this is one that needed to be made. Granted, there are plenty of more than need to take place as well, some of which you mentioned such as Fred’s assistant. As taxpayers, we should be demanding they CUT all non-essential personnel and services and put more funding into areas that are the prime responsibility of any local government.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:10 am
0
0
augusta makes another

augusta makes another terrible deal. the commissioners who voted for this are being ideological or croneyish or something other than trying to fix and improve transit, a necessary part of any real city and especially this poorer than most city.

Riverman1
78381
Points
Riverman1 05/18/11 - 09:08 am
0
0
"Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked

"Mayor Deke Copenhaver asked the audience to hold (it) down."

I love it when our Superman-like, strong, charismatic, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, intimidating, omnipotent, omniscientific (can I stop now?) Mayor gets angry.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 09:29 am
0
0
it's usually when something

it's usually when something drags a meeting out. he can't be stuck in there like a chump, he's got people to save! and a jazzercize class to get to.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 09:53 am
0
0
Mary you will see improvement

Mary you will see improvement in transit........ you also know that we have looked into this for over a year. If we don't start making serious cuts now then how would you balance our budget??
I am sorry that some people will loose jobs but our Government is not an employment agency and while we need to respect our Government employees we also have an obligation to all of the taxpayers of the County.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 10:00 am
0
0
but, joe, the proposal didn't

but, joe, the proposal didn't include improvements and isn't gonna save much money beyond scrapping some pensions. how has the commission been unable to get maps and schedules put up in all these years? inability or lack of will? you lseem to want to privatize things that should be public and make the public pay for things that make other peiple money, like the tee center and bad investment ball stadiums.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 10:15 am
0
0
and now this. it's

and now this. it's privatized but we still pay basically as much? and someone's making a profit off of our support and free buses. no, this government isn't a good employer, but it's great for a couple people's portfolios. hi, cal ripken.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 10:28 am
0
0
Mary the current management

Mary the current management didn't put up the maps. We will save $400,000, not because of pension but because none of the $417,000 of overtime paid last year in transit and other cost savings thru efficient service..

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 10:28 am
0
0
Again I ask, how do you

Again I ask, how do you propose we balance our BUDGET deficit?????????

PR
0
Points
PR 05/18/11 - 12:33 pm
0
0
Anybody could run the bus
Unpublished

Anybody could run the bus system better than A-RC government. Deke's upset because its one less place to put his cronies that are incompetant.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:04 pm
0
0
i propose, joe bowles, that

i propose, joe bowles, that we didn't need a tee center. that we shouldn't lure businesses with our low labor rates and tax breaks while giving them all kinds of monetary gifts, that we didn't need a golf and gardens, don't need a new stadium, need to control law department expenses, shoukd stop with all the studies (how much have we spent on transit studies and how many ideas have been implemented?), should stop arresting and jailing so many nonviolent and nonthieving offenders which is where loads of our money goes, hire competent builders who can build something that lasts longer than twenty years (who built the jail at 401?), don't build a brand new library next to working one that now stands empty and i'm sure will cost a lot to deal with. stop working for construction companies and out of town businesses and do the things a city is supposed to do like run a decent or close to decent transit system. also stop with all the separate elections. did i find $400,00 dollars yet?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 01:08 pm
0
0
Jill, everything you just

Jill, everything you just stated was done with SPLOST $, that cannot be used to balance our budget. I am glad you aren't taking the deficit seriously because if you understood the significance of it you wouldn't find it so humorous.

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:13 pm
0
0
even prisoners and studies

even prisoners and studies and elections, joe?

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:14 pm
0
0
plus, what did i say funny?

plus, what did i say funny? did you mean pretty?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 01:15 pm
0
0
Also, why do most other mid

Also, why do most other mid size cities have private management companies run transit?????? We stopped the special elections 5 years ago.
$400,000 in saving will allow us to keep many employees on the payroll...... SO SHOW ME THE $8,000,000 in savings we need

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 01:17 pm
0
0
Prisoners are sentenced by

Prisoners are sentenced by Judges not Commissioners, Yes the transit study was funded with Sales tax.

Anything else I can clear up???

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:18 pm
0
0
oh yeah, and i heard it's not

oh yeah, and i heard it's not legal to arbitrarily hold property taxes at a steady rate, even in summerville. of course raising property taxes is much more dire than whatever i'm not taking seriously as the result of this shortfall. and it's kinda political suicide, isn't it? not every jumps on a grenade and those who do don't always get reelected.

Curlie56
9
Points
Curlie56 05/18/11 - 01:20 pm
0
0
This privatization is not

This privatization is not about service people! #1. The commission/Fred Russell launched the hotel program which allows hotel residents to ride free of charge with current hotel receipts and key cards which are copied and sold by the residents to anyone who makes the purchase. This is hotel/motel tax money of which a portion is suppose to come back to transit...no portion seen yet..so the commission holds the money and cries transit is losing money! 2.The commission/Fred Russell demanded a week long free ridership for all..the system lost several thousands! The commission/Fred Russell has known for years that Hayward Johnson was mismanaging transit, because they were told on several occasions, but they chose to ignore complaints! Transit was set up to fail with the help of some commissioners, city administrator and Hayward Johnson. All is not true that you are reading in the chronicle. Now, it is obvious that some are profiting very well from this transaction..Thank GOD the drivers have good clean licenses and CDL's are in big demand!

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:23 pm
0
0
we still have lots of

we still have lots of separate elections. i understand judges sentence prison time, but sheriff "i'd stack em in there til they couldn't move" strength might be well contrasted with a police chief that the commission can hire to lower crime instead of pack the jail. who built 401? clear that up for me, please.
how did you not see an $8 million dollar shortfall coming?
Thank you for clearing about these mysteries. seriously.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 05/18/11 - 01:31 pm
0
0
WHEN DID WE HAVE A SPECIAL

WHEN DID WE HAVE A SPECIAL ELECTION LAST, WELL I HAVE TO GET BACK TO MY JOB...... SORRY JILL WE CAN CONTINUE THIS LATER....I GLAD THAT WE CAN DISAGREE ON PHILOSOPHY AND NOT GET UGLY.....YOU SEE TAXING AS THE SOLUTION AND I SEE GETTING OUR GOVERNMENT IN ORDER AND TAXING AS A LAST RESORT.....

mary.dits
0
Points
mary.dits 05/18/11 - 01:49 pm
0
0
i was hoping you were gonna

i was hoping you were gonna clear things up but i can see by the all caps you really gotta get to work. plus i'd be very hard-pressed to get ugly.
general public who aren't busy working- who built 401?

Riverman1
78381
Points
Riverman1 05/18/11 - 02:25 pm
0
0
Busses are one thing that

Busses are one thing that keeps poor people working and off of welfare. Whethers it's private or public run we need busses. Joe makes good points that the county is 7 million in the red and has to do something. Mary makes good points, too. Giving away all the hotel tax for the next 30 years as a bribe for the TEE doesn't help the budget.

Riverman1
78381
Points
Riverman1 05/18/11 - 02:29 pm
0
0
I don't believe Deke actually

I don't believe Deke actually used his gavel when he got upset. He made like he was going to hit the base, but he pulled it at the last second.

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