NCTCOG seeks direct recipient status of McKinney transit funds

During the March 10 Regional Transportation Council meeting, North Central Texas Council of Government and local elected officials decided to seek direct recipient status of McKinney's public transit funds.

The funds, totaling $2.6 million, include state and federal funding that would have to be spent within McKinney's Urbanized Area or UZA. A UZA is a Census-designated urban area with 50,000 residents or more. Included in McKinney's UZA are the cities of McKinney, Princeton, Prosper, Celina, Melissa and Lowry Crossing.

By becoming the direct recipient, the RTC would stop the funds from going back to the state and would keep local transit dollars within the region. They have several years to keep the funds before being required to spend them on transit in the area. Should the city of McKinney decide in the meantime to once again provide public transit, the funds would be allocated to that service.

Michael Morris, NCTCOG director of transportation, said the RTC has been working with the city for months and jumped in when they saw McKinney opted out of being a direct recipient of those funds.

"When they elected not to [become the direct recipient] then that's potentially $3 million a year to the Dallas-Fort Worth region that would be lost to other portions of the state," he said. "I, as the staff director, said, 'Not on my watch are we going to lose $3 million to other parts of the state,' so I went to the RTC and I did put it on the agenda and called the mayor two days before the RTC meeting and told him that I am not going to lose $3 million of those funds. He was supportive of the RTCs decision to step in."

Morris said he believes McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller is trying to continue transit discussions with the city council, adding that he hopes he will be successful in trying to provide some type of transportation.

"I think the problem is that there are so many things happening in parallel," Morris said. "You have TAPS, which is no  longer there, you have Collin County that has withdrawn from becoming a rural rail district, you have the RTC offering emergency money to provide interim service and you have McKinney choosing not to become the direct recipient for federal formula funds. They all sound like they are the same but the questions are very different and you really need to stop and methodically go through them slowly and that's what the mayor is trying to do."

At this point, the RTC has submitted the request for direct recipient status and will sort through what potential funding is left for the 2016 fiscal year as well as look ahead at FY 2017 funds. When asked if the money were to be given to another part of the state whether the region could then regain the funds at a later time, Morris said "I'm not even going to entertain that option."

"We stepped forward and if we have to be the recipient of the transit funds for that particular community," he said. "I think it will be sorted out but I am not pursuing an option to send the money somewhere else then try to get it back. I'm not doing that. We will keep the money here and sort it out among own family here in the DFW region."

Morris said becoming a direct recipient complicates matters with the RTC because their role is to be a neutral party that helps establish policies, assist transit providers and fund projects. The direct recipient role, he said, should be the responsibility of transportation partners, whether that is a city, county or transit property.

"I believe the RTC wishes to be the responsibility of a metropolitan planning service and not be the implementor of transit service," he said.

Parallel to the direct recipient conversation happening in McKinney, Morris said the RTCs offer of emergency transit funding for the elderly and disabled is still on the table. The RTC wants to make doubly sure the city is set in its decision to not provide service to those individuals, he said.

If the city stuck to its decision to not provide public transit, Morris said the RTC would still be interested in providing some type of emergency public transit to the elderly and disabled in McKinney's UZA.

"There are six cities in the urbanized area of McKinney," he said. "We would probably bring in all six and hear from the other cities on their position and take a leadership position of at least trying to provide minimum emergency service until calmer heads could perceive what it is we are trying to do. We aren't doing this for theatrics. We are trying to meet the needs of the users in that community."


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