The Regional Transit Authority staff plans to meet with Mt. Juliet officials to discuss the city’s annual operating contribution shortfall. According to the group, Mt. Juliet has not paid its budgeted $30,000 Music City Star operating contribution since 2014.
“We really don’t want to do anything punitive to Mt. Juliet, but it’s become an issue, because this is an ongoing problem,” said Sumner County executive Anthony Holt. “If you look at it, Mt. Juliet has the largest ridership, as my understanding, in that entire corridor, but yet, if you look back on Page 11, they’re paying the least.”
Mt. Juliet annually budgets about $30,000 for Music City Star operation, which is about $25,000 less than Lebanon and $20,000 less than Wilson County.
“We’re not asking them to pay more. We’re asking them to really contribute their fair share,” Holt said.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, RTA vice chairman, elaborated on the situation with Mt. Juliet.
“Mt. Juliet, for a while, did pay their fair share. Then, there was a situation that came up about the property around the station and the use of that. In conversations that happened between them and RTA, there was a difference of opinions of that. We’ve tried to get to the bottom of that,” said Hutto, who said the county also neglected its financial duties at one point.
“We will work to try and solve that. We enjoy the train in Wilson County, and we want everybody to pay their fair share and want to do everything we can to keep it alive and going.”
“This has the potential to undermine what we’re doing. This entire RTA has been a collaborative effort. We’ve all participated, and I think we’ve done so in good faith, and we’ve done so in an equitable way where everybody’s treated fairly,” Holt said.
Possible options discussed to remedy the issue included reducing service to the Mt. Juliet station, charging for parking, applying a ticket surcharge for riders who use the station or paying back the Federal Transit Administration the federal portion of the station value and stopping service.
The RTA ended bus service in Brentwood after the city did not fulfill its financial obligations. However, RTA CEO Steve Bland said the situation in Mt. Juliet differs.
“The primary difference is there’s an investment of federal funds in the fixed asset in the city of Mt. Juliet,” Bland said.
“I don’t think it’s our place to underwrite an entity that is not economically disadvantaged. I think Mt. Juliet definitely has some ability to pay and pay that amount,” Holt said.
Toks Omishakin, Tennessee Department of Transportation chief of the bureau of environment and planning, said the department had an interest in keeping all long-range transportation options available.
“All the trips that happen between the surrounding cities and counties into Nashville and back and forth, we see ourselves playing a bigger role there. So, if something happens to the Star, or in this particular case we decide to stop service on the Star, that means more pressure, potentially, on I-40 or any of the adjacent corridors,” Ominshakin said.
Bland said any changes in fares or service would require public hearings, but he hopes changes in services can be avoided following discussions with Mt. Juliet officials.
“The city of Mt. Juliet does contribute to RTA via all maintenance, upkeep, repair and emergency services to the train station/depot,” Mt. Juliet City Manager Kenny Martin said last week. “In past years, the city also contributed an additional annual $30,000 contribution to the RTA beyond our annual dues and bountiful in-kind services, but those contributions have been shifted in recent years to more pressing local infrastructure needs throughout our city.”
Martin said Mt. Juliet infrastructure projects, such as Golden Bear Gateway, the adaptive signals upgrade, lighting of the Interstate 40 interchange and other road projects have demanded the city’s attention and money.
“The city is very proud of the projects we are conducting and feel we have a wonderful relationship and partnership with RTA. Again, we'd like to contribute more, but have to put all of our more pressing local infrastructure needs first on our priority needs list,” Martin said last week. “We will continue to work well with and support the RTA and all of our partners as we always have and always will.”
Music City Star service begins in the East Corridor and runs from Lebanon to downtown Nashville and includes six stations – Lebanon, Martha, Mt. Juliet, Hermitage, Donelson and Riverfront Station.
For more information on the Music City Star, visit musiccitystar.org.