PART gears out of fiscal reverse

Jan. 23, 2014 @ 03:56 PM

Riders who rely on the region’s mass transit agency can board a black-and-red bus with more confidence now that the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation has a better chance to stay on the road.

PART, which once teetered on the brink of insolvency, has improved its fiscal position. A recent audit of PART’s finances gave the agency high marks. The audit for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which found no material deficiencies with PART’s financial practices, contrasts with an unflattering review in the summer of 2011.
Two and a half years ago, PART had its federal and state grant funding suspended because a U.S. Federal Transit Administration review found serious weaknesses in PART’s internal financial controls. The problems included inadequate oversight of grant money and lack of control over cash collected in fare boxes on PART Express buses.
PART has since corrected the deficiencies and had federal and state grant funding restored. An audit of PART’s 2012-13 fiscal year found no major problems and an improvement in the agency’s fiscal condition.
“PART operated with sufficient expenditure reductions and obtained additional grant revenues that enabled an increase of (its) general fund balance by nearly $99,000,” according to the report from the accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman.
PART now maintains a fund balance of approximately $3.7 million, according to the agency’s annual audit report. PART Executive Director Scott Rhine said that more than two years ago, the fund balance dipped below $2 million.
“We have restructured our organization this past year. We’ve established new internal controls, and that stability is there,” said Rhine, who was promoted to executive director a year ago this month following the retirement of former top executive Brent McKinney.
PART had to take tough measures to right its fiscal ship, including cutting bus routes and raising fares. PART operates 33 buses in nine counties, including Guilford, Davidson and Randolph counties. Despite its troubles, PART has nearly 40,000 riders each month.
PART Chairwoman Becky Smothers, a member of High Point City Council, said she’s more confident that the agency has recovered to a point of sustaining itself. In the recent past, Smothers was candid in saying that if PART didn’t reform, the agency faced its demise.
“I think there is no doubt there is a strong base for folks to judge that it is financially stable,” Smothers told The High Point Enterprise. “Now the real challenge is going to be the demand for increased service and the ability of elected officials to recognize there has to be investment to do that.”
The PART board and staff have made difficult but necessary decisions to turn around the agency and preserve bus service for commuters and others who rely on mass transit, she said.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528