Pender recommends a King Solomon solution to competing transportation requests

Written by  Wednesday, 06 February 2019 11:55
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Frontenac Transportation Services (FTS), which is operated by Rural Frontenac Community Services (RFCS), has been funded by Frontenac County under the heading of “grants to others” since FTS was established in May of 2011.

County support for rural transportation goes further back however, to 2003 or even earlier. The agencies that are now known as Southern Frontenac Community Services (SFCS) and Rural Frontenac Community Services (RFCS) received support from Frontenac County to help transport their far-flung clientele to their service centres in Sharbot Lake and Sydenham. A few years later, RFCS set up a transportation service, called Rural Routes, to consolidate its existing transportation operations for children, families, and seniors under one service. Rural Routes also offered transportation to the general public and to clientele who are supported by social service agencies within the catchment area of Central and North Frontenac.

As early as 2006, RFCS approached Frontenac County for secure, year over year funding to support Rural Routes. Meanwhile, SFCS also continued to approach the county each year for transportation funding.

At that time, County Council, and particularly South Frontenac Mayor Gary Davison, took the view that Frontenac County should be supporting one transportation service, that was offered on an equal basis throughout at least the mainland portion of the county. RFCS, as the operator of Rural Routes, and SFCS, were told that they needed to work together and come to the county for a single grant.

A couple of consultations later, arrangements were made between the two agencies for the formation of Frontenac Transportation Services (FTS) in May of 2011. FTS was and is still run by RFCS. It provides service to Frontenac County residents using volunteer drivers who receive mileage payments but no money for their volunteer hours. It provides rides to RFCS clients and the general public in Frontenac County for a fee. Until recently, FTS also provided service to SFCS clients under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between SFCS and RFCS. Despite ongoing challenges, that MOU held for over 7 years, until late last fall.

For several years Frontenac Transportation Service received steady funding from Frontenac County, starting at $86,000 per year in 2011 and eventually rising to $96,000 per year.

In 2017, FTS ran a deficit for the first time, and asked for an increase in funding from Frontenac County for the 2018 budget year. In their 2018 budget, Frontenac County provided some extra funding, on a one-time basis, and RFCS was instructed to prepare a comprehensive business case within one-year in order to justify a permanent increase. Meanwhile, in February, 2018, SFCS signaled its intention to terminate its MOU effective April 1/2018 because it found the program was costing the agency too much money. After RFCS and FTS attempted, unsuccessfully, to satisfy the concerns of SFCS over the summer, the MOU was terminated in October of 2018.

Part of the complicated backdrop for this outcome relates to the differences in the scope of services offered by the two agencies. SFCS receives the bulk of its funding from the Ministry of Health to provide services for seniors. In addition, it receives provincial funding, filtered through the City of Kingston, for homelessness prevention throughout Frontenac County. It also runs the Grace Hall and the South Frontenac Food Bank, using mostly locally fundraised dollars.

RFCS also receives Ministry of Health funding to provide services for seniors, and operates the Child Centre, providing daycare services in Sharbot Lake. RFCS also operates the EarlyOn childhood education program throughout Frontenac County, and family and youth programming for residents of Central and North Frontenac. It considers itself a “cradle to grave” agency, serving children, youth, adults, families, and seniors.

These differences are relevant to transportation. As of October of 2017, SFCS is offering transportation only to seniors in South Frontenac. This reflects the agencies overall service mandate. And the only transportation funding support that SFCS receives, which comes from the Ministry of Health, is earmarked specifically for seniors.

RFCS and its offshoot FTS remain committed to providing transportation services for all ages in South, Central and North Frontenac.

The two agencies also take different views about volunteer mileage payments. RFCS and FTS believes it is fair to pay mileage on the same basis as it is paid by employers, taking into account the life cycle costs for vehicles as well as fuel costs.

SFCS believes that volunteer drivers are not like employees using their own vehicle to drive within the working day. They believe it fair to pay volunteer drivers only enough to cover gas, and regular maintenance costs and not take major repair and vehicle replacement costs into account.

Since mileage payments are the largest component in the cost of rides, this philosophical difference has major cost implications for the cost of transportation services.

As Frontenac County Council considers their 2019 budget this week, they are faced with competing proposals for $96,000 in funding.

RFCS proposes that FTS receive the $96,000 as in other years, and they will transfer about $25,600 of that money to SFCS to subsidise rides (which is how the money has been divvied out since 2011.)

SFCS has made a counter–proposal, asking for 65% of the $96,000, or $62,400, leaving $33,600 for FTS

In support of their submission, SFCS points to the Strategic Plan that was adopted by Frontenac County Council in 2014. One of the “wildly important goals” that was identified in that document was to ensure that seniors in Frontenac County have secure transportation to necessary medical and other appointments. This, according to SFCS, makes its own focus on seniors’ rides consistent with the county’s own direction. As well, South Frontenac is the home of 65% of Frontenac County residents.

In a staff report, signed off by Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Pender, Frontenac County Council is being presented with 5 options regarding transportation. Option 1: pull back from supporting transportation entirely and save $96,000. Option 2: put out a new Request for Proposal for transportation services. Option 3: accept the RFCS submission. Option 4: accept the SFCS proposal. The final option (option 5) which Pender is recommending, is to split the $96,000 in two and give $48,000 to each agency in 2019, subject to negotiating acceptable terms and conditions with each of them for a one-year contract.

For those who are unfamiliar with the old testament, here is the Wikipedia version of King Solomon’ solution story: “The Judgment of Solomon is a story from the Hebrew Bible in which King Solomon of Israel ruled between two women both claiming to be the mother of a child. Solomon revealed their true feelings and relationship to the child by suggesting to cut the baby in two, with each woman to receive half” – The first woman accepted the solution and the second said she would rather let the first woman have the baby rather than see it cut in half, Solomon gave the baby to the second women. As to the first woman, things did not go well for her.

This King Solomon option might not provide enough money for either agency to continue offering transportation services, but it has the advantage of not showing favour to either agency.

One of the risks that comes from the two agencies’ inability to present a common front to the county on transportation is that the $96,000 has been pulled from the budget, where it has been for the last 7 years. It is now an optional add on.

To extend a metaphor well beyond recognition, all of this makes for a greater chance that Frontenac County Council may decide on option 1, to abandon the transportation baby at the side of the road, rather than splitting it in two and offering one half each to RFCS and SFCS.

The strongest deterrent against option 1 is the fact that by supporting the efforts of the two agencies in the past, the county has been able to help provide publicly available transportation to its residents for a minor cost, about 1% of the money it collects from Frontenac County residents each year.

Pulling back from that commitment would leave those needy residents out in the cold.

Editors note – As a Board member of RFCS (Rural Frontenac Community Services) – formerly known as Northern Frontenac Community Services, I represented RFCS on the committee overseeing Frontenac Transportation Services (FTS) along with staff and board members from Southern Frontenac Community Services, between 2011 and October, 2018, when I left the RFCS board. The above article is intended as an overview of the stakes in the debate that is before Frontenac County Council this week as they consider their 2019 budget. JG)

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