On Aug. 2, councilmen reached a consensus to provide $100,000 out of the 2019 general fund for The Hop bus services provided by the Hill Country Transit District.
The Hop’s portion, originally requested at $158,286, is a sharp increase from last year, when the city paid $42,165 for The Hop.
The transit district is proposing to eliminate all Saturday service systemwide for financial reasons. Hours would also be cut for routes 35 and 65, which serve Cove.
The district has an estimated $11.1 million operating budget in fiscal year 2019, with a roughly $450,000 projected shortfall. Darrell Burtner, The Hop’s director of urban operations, attributed the shortfall to changes in its contract with the Texas Health and Human Services Department for transporting Medicaid recipients.
In 2014, the department contracted with LogistiCare Solutions to coordinate the state’s nonemergency transportation, throwing a middle-man into the equation a transportation and integrated health care program broker. LogistiCare’s involvement has sharply decreased Hill Country Transit District’s revenue from its Medicaid contract.
Burtner said Hill Country Transit District staff thought the problem would eventually dissipate rather than snowball. For the past few years, the district has relied on reserves to stay afloat.
What was once $4.9 million in fiscal year 2014 has dissolved into a projected $1.9 million by the end of fiscal year 2018.
“It’s not a sustainable business model,” Burtner said at Thursday’s council budget planning meeting. “I wish we thought about this in the past.”
Councilman James Pierce Jr. questioned when the last time The Hop raised its ride fees, which are about $1 in most cases.
Burtner said while a fee increase would help the bottom line, those dollars cannot be used as part of a local match for federal funding, like municipal contributions.
“The only way we can continue to provide the same level of service next year is if collectively the cities come up with $901,000,” Burtner said. “That’s the amount we’ve been paying out of our own reserves, and that’s what we’d have to pay again.”
One of five public hearings will be held in Cove, from 5 to 6 p.m. Aug. 17 at the Copperas Cove Police Department, 302 E. Avenue E.