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State puts brakes on plan to drive workers to biz park

September 27, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The state has rejected a program in which Washington County would transport residents seeking work to jobs in the Hunters Green Business Center, County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Tuesday.

The County Commissioners said they plan to send a letter asking the state to reconsider supporting the program and they might explain the program to state officials through a presentation.

The commissioners in June approved a $246,000 grant-funded pilot program in which County Commuter, the county's bus system, would pick up county residents receiving temporary cash assistance and transport them to work in the business park along Hopewell Road.

The county already has the grant money from the state, but it was awaiting state approval before it could use it.

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Because the money is earmarked for one-time expenses, the state is concerned about how the county will keep the program running once funding runs out.

Wivell said the rejection letter from the Governor's Office for Children states the program lacks a sustainability plan.

He said, however, the county does have such a plan.

If the program is successful, the county has the option of charging ridership fees once the grant money runs out, possibly receiving help from employers in the business center or using federal transportation dollars, he said.

If it's not successful, Wivell said the county would discontinue the bus rides.

Wivell said Tuesday night that employers in the business park have expressed interest in the program.

"This has been an issue the businesses out there have wanted addressed for years," Wivell said.

The program is aimed at helping residents become self-sufficient, he said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said he thinks there was a misunderstanding in the governor's office regarding the program.

County Transportation Director Kevin Cerrone said in June there were 18 employers in the business park that were interested in the program.

At that time, there were more than 500 job openings among companies there, the county said.

Dave Engle, director of the Washington County Department of Social Services, said many of those positions could be filled by residents receiving temporary cash assistance, but they have no way to get there.

Of the 323 county families receiving temporary cash assistance, approximately 150 would qualify for the pilot program, Engle said.

Engle said in June that the program would be open to noncustodial parents - those who don't have custody of their children and owe child support.

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