WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Albert Eby has worked in transportation for more than 30 years. He’s dealt with hurricanes, winter storms and flooding. But never before has Eby had to steer his agency through a funding lapse like the federal government shutdown, which reached a tentative end Friday.
“It’s very difficult to feel confident after a 34, 35-day shutdown, so we will definitely make sure to get all of our expenses in line and submitted back to the federal government for reimbursement. But we will be prepared to undergo something like this again, if possible,” said Eby, executive director of Cape Fear Public Transportation Authority, WAVE Transit.
The CFPTA, which provides services to New Hanover County and north Brunswick County, passed a resolution Thursday stating if federal funding was not restored by Feb. 15, it would notify all contractors and staff that transportation services would be suspended on March 2.
During that same meeting, the board agreed to create a detailed plan outlining which bus routes would be halted and which services would be put on hold in the event of a lapse in federal funding, which accounts for about 30% of CFPTA’s budget.
That interruption of service should not happen now that a temporary government funding resolution has been reached and the government reopened while negotiations continue over President Donald Trump’s demands for money to build his long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
"We've also got to realize that we could find ourselves in this situation again in a very short period of time," said Eby.
Eby said WAVE made a partial reimbursement request in mid-December as the shutdown loomed, but hasn’t received any funding since.
The federal government owes CFPTA just under $1 million dollars after the shutdown pay lapse, which is about 12% of its annual budget. To pay the bills in the meantime, Eby said the agency has turned to emergency cash and funds.
"All those payments, as soon as the computer system comes up, the federal government should be reimbursing us within a matter of hours, if not less than few a days," said Eby.
The ongoing construction of WAVE’s Northside Wave Transit facility has also been threatened during the shutdown, because the contractor building the facility has not been paid since obtaining the contract in November. All of the funding for the transfer facility’s construction comes from federal dollars. Eby said Friday he still expects the work to be completed by the end of 2019.
“It is challenging. We’ve been able to continue on using fund balance and some cash we had, but obviously at some point that’s going to be exhausted,” said Eby.
In general, CFPTA must ask the treasury for reimbursement after spending money because the expenses require an approval process, explained Eby. About $2 million in federal funds annually go toward regular operations and other WAVE projects.
“These services help the most vulnerable in our community,” said Eby. “It’s their lifeline to medical appointments, to educational opportunities, to employment, life-saving dialysis. There’s a lot of things that we do for the most vulnerable in our community.”
More than 1.4 million riders utilize WAVE transit routes each year.