FL: Former Trolley Operator Bills TPO $148,000

Aug. 28--PANAMA CITY -- The Bay County Transportation Planning Organization on Wednesday voted to reject payment of most of about $148,000 in invoices billed to it by the former trolley operator.

TPO members agreed with their attorney, William C. Henry, that about $108,000 of the invoices billed to the TPO by Santa Ynez Valley Transportation of Panama City Beach should not be paid because the former trolley operator was asking to be paid for services, such as parts replacement and trash pickup, that were outside of the scope of its contract with the TPO.

Jeanie and Mark Meeks, owners of the company, said in telephone interviews after the meeting that they strongly disagree and will be contacting their attorney to discuss possible legal action. They said all of the billings were valid.

"Unfortunately, they didn't pursue other avenues to research and hear the other side," Mark Meeks said. "I'm a little disappointed in that. We believe that there is more background in each of these issues we would have hoped they would have reached out for."

In May, TPO approved First Transit to take over as operator of the public transit system. First Transit became responsible for overseeing the daily operation in July.

In mid-June, Santa Ynez Valley Transportation submitted a flash drive containing invoices for extra charges the company claimed was owed to it during its five-year contract. The TPO paid two invoices in the amounts of $17,314 and $1,767 that were related to a 52-cent increase in the revenue-hour rate that was approved by the TPO in April.

Of the remaining invoices, one claim for $21,071 was to cover the 52-cent increase for the entire fiscal year, from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

That time period is the year prior to the retroactive increase approved by the TPO in April, 2014, so the company is not owed this money, Henry told the TPO.

"They are claiming an extra year increase," Henry told the TPO.

But Jeanie Meeks said they were in their right to bill for this year because the rate was supposed to be negotiated each year and it wasn't.

She said their last negotiated rate that was approved by the TPO was valid from July of 2011 to June of 2012. She said negotiations were supposed to occur on the rate for the next year, but were postponed. Contractually, this means the TPO is responsible for paying the last negotiated rate, she said.

"We went without a new negotiated contract for two years until First Transit took over (the trolley service)," she said. "To me, they are in breach of contract."

Another invoice, in the amount of $40,360, was for route redesign work performed by the company in 2009 or 2010, Henry said. Henry said some of this input led to new bus routes.

"This one may have some merit but I don't see it clearly," Henry said.

After hearing that, the TPO, which is made up of city and county elected officials, agreed that Henry should sit down and negotiate this charge with the Meeks. Henry also said there is always a chance a case like this could end up in court, and the attorney's fees could cost more than a settlement.

Mark Meeks said he was pleased the TPO was willing to talk about this invoice.

"We redesigned all the routes and submitted it to West Florida (Regional Planning Council)," he said. "There are 250 stops within these routes. We put lot of effort in that."

The third open invoice, in the amount of $32,560, claims reimbursement for additional labor, parts and insurance costs arising when five new buses turned out to be "lemons," Henry said.

The buses were delivered in July of 2011, and replaced with different models in May or June of 2012, Henry said.

"My reading of the contract is the operator is responsible for the maintenance of all the vehicles and insurance of all the vehicles," Henry said.

The final open invoice, for $53,758, claims reimbursement for labor costs of seven workers and one supervisor for picking up trash at bus stops and cleaning bus shelters from July of 2009 through October of 2013.

"It doesn't state in the contract that trash pickup is part of their job, but that is the norm in the industry," Henry said.

Mark Meeks disagrees.

"The fact is, if you look at the major transit agencies around the United States, trash (pickup) is not in their contracts," he said.

Copyright 2014 - The News Herald, Panama City, Fla.

Loading