Tulare County contemplates withdrawal from TCRTA

Board representative and public information officer Jennifer Fawkes holding a presentation board for TCRTA Director Abul Hassan during the June 4 Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting.(Karis Caddell)

Tulare County Board of Supervisors weighs whether to withdraw from the Tulare County Regional Transit Agency due to ongoing fiscal transparency, budget deficit concerns

TULARE COUNTY – The Tulare County Board of Supervisors is in the process of evaluating whether the county should remain in the Tulare County Regional Transit Agency (TCRTA) or start pursuing other options.

On June 4, the Board heard a presentation from TCRTA director Abul Hassan to assess the current state of the agency due to concerns about its finances and operations. No decision was made as to whether the county will continue to utilize the services of the TCRTA at this meeting, but the supervisors agreed to hear another presentation from the agency in September to reassess and decide whether or not to withdraw from the organization.

“I asked for Abul to come speak and talk (about) what’s happening with TCRTA, and they have been very open,” Chairman Larry Micari said. “I know that it’s no secret that TCAG announced that six of the nine participants in the (Joint Powers Agreement) have all submitted letters contesting the allotment (agency’s financial transparency). So we need to work together.”

Supervisor Dennis Townsend brought up the issue of fiscal transparency, which he said is the main concern he has been hearing from the other agencies. He noted that the TCRTA has little to no reserve of funds of its own, as the agency is currently operating on loan funds, and asked Hassan how many other agencies in the TCRTA were made aware of this, to which Hassan replied, “all of them.”

Tulare County Regional Transit Agency Director Abul Hassan gesturing to a board during his presentation to the Board of Supervisors. (Karis Caddell)

For context, Hassan explained some of the history that led the TCRTA to where they are now, noting that in June 2022 the TCRTA was just getting operations rolling and had a negative balance of $390,000 after their first audit. In response, former director of the TCRTA Richard Tree took out a $5 million loan to keep the agency in operation in December 2022.

Because of the loan, the TCRTA currently has $3,222,887 cash on hand; without the loan, the TCRTA would have an available balance of negative $1,777,113.

Hassan also noted that when he joined the TCRTA as director back in December 2023, he also found the finances were not reported adequately. And while he is trying to catch up on the last few years that the TCRTA has been operating, he only has a small staff – including himself – to get things in order.

“I’ll also say we’re an agency with a $20 million – roughly – operating budget. I only have four staff (members), so that’s been the other limiting factor,” Hassan said.

According to Hassan, one of the factors behind the situation is because all of the TCRTA agencies contributed less to the system than the cost of running the services. The fixed-route services remained the same as before the TCRTA was formed. If this continues as it has been, he said the TCRTA will accumulate a negative balance of over $4 million per year, potentially leading to complete failure by 2025 or 2026.

The TCRTA was created on August 11, 2020 by Joint Powers Agreement between the County of Tulare and cities of Dinuba, Exeter, Farmersville, Lindsay, Porterville, Tulare and Woodlake for the purpose of providing better, more cost effective transit for the cities. However, recently Porterville has withdrawn from the TCRTA and now the county is considering withdrawal as well.

Supervisor Pete Vander Poel III explained that unless he hears of more good news from the next TCRTA presentation, then he is in favor of withdrawing the county altogether.

“Looking forward to the future, I believe that if the costs do go up too much more, the county really needs to look seriously at whether or not we fit in the TCRTA – or provide the services on our own internally,” Vander Poel said.

Supervisor Amy Shuklian said she will feel more comfortable making a decision after county staff dives deeper into the sustainability of the TCRTA and comes back with recommendations. As for the presentation at the meeting, she felt like she did not have her concerns addressed.

“There’s a lot of questions financially, and I didn’t really feel like this report gave many answers on that,” Shuklian said. “There’s no answers for me here.”

She noted that on the financial page which was presented in discussions of fiscal transparency, many of the numbers were covered up by a large red graphic, making it difficult for her to read the information.

However, not all of the Supervisors are on board with pulling out of the TCRTA.

“I still believe in TCRTA and I believe that we are better together than apart,” Supervisor Eddie Valero said. “There has been just so much that has gone on, but (the decision) I started (with), I will end (with) – I still believe in the TCRTA and its future for the people of the county of Tulare.”

Ultimately, it is unclear what the supervisors will decide in regards to staying in the TCRTA as of report. The board will revisit the issue by the end of September.

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