Source: Sherman Publications

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$1.37M grant for NOTA not much help right now

by CJ Carnacchio

December 07, 2011

The good news is the North Oakland Transportation Authority (NOTA) was awarded a $1.37 million grant from the state and federal governments.

The bad news is it can't simply be added to NOTA's budget and freely spent on operations. It can only be used as reimbursement for a specific group of riders who are already covered by some existing grant funding.

"It's kind of deceiving," said NOTA Interim Director Lynn Gustafson. "All that money is not going to be flowing into our general fund . . . It's great we got (the grant), but it sends the wrong message. We really won't be able to use all that money."

NOTA provides free rides for senior citizens, mentally and physically disabled individuals and transit-dependent folks living in Oxford, Addison and Orion townships along with their three respective villages.

Approximately 20 percent of those rides are related to employment needs, according to Gustafson. In other words, these riders rely on NOTA to transport them to and from jobs, interviews, training or career/employment centers.

These are the types of riders covered by this $1.37 million grant, which comes from the Job Access and Reverse Commute (JARC) program. Fifty-percent of the grant came from the federal government, while the other half is from the state.

Gustafson explained that NOTA won't be receiving a $1.37 million check to deposit in its account. It's not an up-front payment.

Basically, the way the grant works is NOTA sends in quarterly statements reporting its total actual expenditures and bills JARC based on the percentage of its riders covered under the program.

"It's a reimbursement-type grant," Gustafson said. "We can only bill for the expenses we had in that time period."

Thanks to existing JARC grants previously awarded to NOTA, there is currently enough funding to cover all the entity's job-related riders.

"Right now, we're pretty much 100 percent funded on the expenses for our job rides," Gustafson said. "So, I don't think it's going to change our operations much, unfortunately."

"It's great that they awarded it to us, it really is. It's just that today, it's really not going to affect us too much," she explained. "It's confusing because people don't understand how it works."

Gustafson noted the $1.37 million grant might make a difference later on.

"Will it affect our operations? It could in the future if we don't receive future JARC funding," she said. "If we don't get future funding, I know we can rely on that until it runs out. But right now our funds our covered by JARC."

The money might also make a difference if NOTA can receive reimbursement for job-related rides that might not have been covered in previous years. Unfortunately, Gustafson indicated at this point, it's not clear exactly how far back NOTA can bill for.

"We're trying to find out what time period they're allowing us to bill for," she said. "That's kind of all still up in the air."