DC3 hears of PDRTA needs
By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, email@example.com
The Darlington County Coordinating Council (DC3) held its regular monthly meeting March 6 at Medford Nursing Center in Darlington. Attendees heard a presentation from Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority director Chuck MacNeil, who discussed the funding hurdles PDRTA faces every year to keep buses on the road.
MacNeil explained the funding process for PDRTA, noting that 60-percent of their budget comes from federal money, 20-percent from SCDOT and state money, and the remaining 20-percent from local cities, counties, and partnerships. This amounts to about $142,000 in federal money, and $46,000 each from state and local sources. If PDRTA fails to secure local funds, it does not qualify for federal money, so MacNeil said those local contributions are critical.
He noted that some municipalities, like Hartsville, have opted out and do not contribute toward PDRTA as a public transportation option, while cities like Darlington fund at fluctuating levels. In 2012/13, Darlington subsidized PDRTA with $6,600, then raised that amount to $25,000 in 2013/14, and contributed $16,000 in fiscal year 2014/15. MacNeil said he had no idea how much the city would be able to kick in for the upcoming year.
“That local pie wedge is really our biggest speed bump,” he said.
MacNeil said the DART bus route servicing the City of Darlington is a growing service, with an 11-percent increase in ridership from 2013 to 2014, and another anticipated surge in usage once the Walmart opens on South Main Street. Also, nearly half the DART passengers are 60 years of age or older, and 92-percent of the surveyed PDRTA riders indicated they have no other transportation available.
MacNeil said that PDRTA lost its Medicaid contracts in 2007 when South Carolina decided to use a private broker to contract Medicaid patient pickups. This opened up the market to multiple private transport entities, including “mom and pop” businesses that simply purchase a used ambulance, use it as an ersatz taxi, and collect tens of thousands from Medicaid. MacNeil said his predecessors at PDRTA sued the state over this decision, thereby burning bridges and hurting any possibility of regaining Medicaid transport contracts.
Due to other local funding cuts, said MacNeil, PDRTA ended services in Marion and Cheraw, reduced its fleet from 109 vehicles to 45, and cut its workforce from 103 employees to 33.
Local partners in Darlington, including Genesis Health Care, Darlington County Adult Education, Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church, and volunteer groups have helped shore up funding shortfalls, but MacNeil said that PDRTA would require steady local assistance to ensure federal funding.
He broached the idea of a penny sales tax to exclusively fund road improvements and public transportation. Some DC3 members, including Kathy Baxley of Darlington County Free Medical Clinic and Diane Dennis of Wilson Senior Care, offered funding suggestions, such as direct mail appeals, private donor registries, and marketing the buses as advertising space.
Also, Sheila Haney asked those present to remind clients of the upcoming Darlington County One-Stop Shop Services, which provide food, health checks, job search assistance, and legal help. Service days are scheduled Thursdays, 10 am until 1 pm, March 26, June 25, September 24, and December 17 at the Hartsville Boys and Girls Club, located at 1103 S. 6th Street.