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Monday, May 27, 2024

Amid conflicting explanations and statements, top WAVE official promises answers soon

The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority will hold a public hearing next month to discuss potential service changes. (Port City Daily photo / File)
The Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (WAVE) is facing financial issues — but there are diverging explanations of how those issues arose. (Port City Daily photo / File)

WILMINGTON — The top WAVE executive says the public transportation authority hopes to be able to present financial documents to explain its current budget situation in ‘layman’s terms’ by early next week.

There’s more than a little confusion over that situation, after the Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority (WAVE) told city and county finance officers that ‘delayed’ funding would force it to ‘suspend operations’ by mid-February. WAVE claimed a ‘delayed request’ by the local municipal planning organization was partially responsible — a claim flatly denied by the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO).

Related: WAVE says $700,000 loan needed from Wilmington and New Hanover or operations will halt in three weeks

After Port City Daily published this information on Thursday afternoon WAVE Executive Director Albert Eby released a statement that “contrary to select media reports, WAVE is not considering any loss of service” and that he was confident that funding was available.

Eby did not respond to questions about how to reconcile his statement with an email sent by WAVE’s finance director earlier in the week stating the Authority would suspend service in less than a month without an influx of cash, or how to reconcile WAVE’s claim of a ‘delayed response’ with WMPO’s evidence to the contrary.

On Thursday evening Deputy Director Megan Methany suggested that the Authority’s finance director may have used the “wrong terminology” when he suggested operations would be suspended, but that she believed he wanted to “convey the severity of the cash-flow issue.” Methany declined to amend the Authority’s press release to clarify this.

The following day, WAVE doubled down on social media.

On Friday evening, Eby responded to another round of questions, this time saying the Authority was collecting information for a formal response and stating that WAVE was not accusing the media of misreporting the issue.

“To ensure that information distributed is consistent, the Authority is preparing financial documents detailing the current situation. Our hope is that the document can explain both cash flow and budget issues in layman’s terms. The document or documents should be ready for distribution early next week. We will distribute upon completion. I apologize if our press release yesterday was misleading, it was not our intention to imply that the media was misreporting any information,” Eby wrote.

Conflicting explanations

On Tuesday afternoon, WAVE Finance Director Joseph Mininni emailed New Hanover County Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wurtzbacher and Wilmington Assistant Financial Director Bryon Dorey to ask for a cash advance or a loan of $700,000. Mininni stated that the shortfall was not the Authority’s fault and that WAVE would recoup the delayed funding eventually.

According to Mininni, and emails provided by New Hanover County, a total of $1.2 million in funding earmarked for WAVE had been delayed. That included about $700,000 in state funding had been delayed due to NCDOT’s very public financial troubles; according to emails from New Hanover County, WAVE became aware of this on January 7.

In addition, $500,000 in federal funding was missing — according to Mininni, this was due to a “delayed request” from the Wilmington Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (WMPO), the regional organization that serves as a liaison and funding conduit between federal and state agencies and local transportation projects.

WAVE told New Hanover County that the Authority had ‘discovered’ that WMPO had not filed the request for federal funding in November. Following that discovery, the request was filed but because it was delayed funding would lag behind, according to an email from Wurtzbacher to New Hanover County Commissioners. It is not clear when, exactly, WAVE became ware that this delayed funding would impact that Authority’s ability to operate.

WMPO said that WAVE’s claim of a ‘delayed request’ was not accurate.

According to emails provided by WMPO Executive Director Mike Kozloslky, WAVE made the federal funding request to WMPO in early August of 2019. Following that, WMPO requested a direct allocation from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Surface Transportation Block Grant program (STBG) on September 25, 2019.

Kozlosky pointed out that this was “additional funding” that was “not specifically earmarked or guaranteed.” Because WAVE was requesting to use federal highway funds for public transportation — two different federal funding categories — the money had to “flexed” from the FHWA to the Federal Transit Administration. The funding ‘flex’ is a bureaucratic procedure that takes time: WMPO requested the flex on October 23, 2019, published the administrative modification this month, and will consider it for formal approval in February.

After the article published, Mininni clarified that WAVE was not blaming or “trying to point the finger” at the WMPO. He was not able to explain where the delay alleged by WAVE had taken place.


Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001

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