By Amye Anderson
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – On the heels of the recent release of audit findings regarding UCHRA’s mishandling of transportation-centered funds, TDOT has yanked a $3 million grant from the agency.
Earlier this week, UCHRA officials were notified the grant, which was designated to help with the construction of a new 30,000-square-foot, $4 million administrative facility and transit hub for the agency, was being withdrawn due to the findings of the monitoring report released last week.
“While this is very disheartening, with everything going on, I certainly don’t blame them for making this move,” Mark Farley, UCHRA’s interim executive director, told the UCBJ Friday.
Approximately $13 million in grant funds were distributed by TDOT in February to assist organizations with a variety of projects including transit center construction, bus and van purchases, transit vehicle maintenance, and bus shelters.
The agency’s current offices along S. Jefferson Avenue are leased spaces. The property for the proposed project has already been purchased.
Located at 5698 S. Jefferson Ave., the proposed project would still be within Cookeville and is situated along Highway 111; allowing better access to nearby major highways and Interstate 40, according to Agency director of transportation and services Rebecca Harris.
“They indicated that there will be an additional funding round next year and encouraged us to reapply at that time,” Farley said. “We will regroup and formulate another plan moving forward and hopefully, by the time the next grant opportunity comes around, we will have rebuilt our reputation and (have) regained the trust of TDOT.”
In recent months, Agency leaders and committee members have discussed plans to reduce the Agency’s administrative office space in an effort to cut expenses and funnel the savings back into Agency programs.
“It doesn’t change (that) plan,” Farley said, regarding the withdrawal of grant funds. “We have office space in the existing maintenance shop and the rest of the staff can be in a smaller-footprint Cookeville office or be relocated out in the adjoining county offices.”
The TDOT audit, released earlier this month, flagged more than $130,000 in “questioned costs” made under the leadership of now-former agency executive director Luke Collins. Among those costs were several instances of employee time being charged incorrectly to the transportation department. Prior to the dismissal of Collins, meeting minutes from December 2017 note that employees claimed they were instructed by Collins to charge some of their time to the Agency’s transportation department.