July 25—PANAMA CITY BEACH — The former trolley operator has sued the county’s transportation planning organization and a state agency for nearly $1 million, alleging breach of contract and a failure to provide safe buses.
Santa Ynez Valley Transportation Services, which operated the county’s trolley system from July 2009 to July 2014, has sued the Bay County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) in Bay County Circuit Court for $949,505, plus attorneys fees and costs.
“Shortly after taking over operation, dominion and control of the system, plaintiff discovered substandard, inefficient, unreliable and dangerous buses that were being used well beyond the FDOT’s Use and Full Life Policy, and were not equipped with surveillance videos,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit adds Santa Ynez also discovered the TPO had only provided 300 feet of office space “to somehow accommodate 45 employees.”
“Plaintiff also discovered there had been no previously implemented preventative maintenance program from the former operator,” the lawsuit states. “Consistent with the agreement, and to combat those deficiencies and stabilize the system, plaintiff implemented a rigorous preventative maintenance program, and were forced to hire additional mechanics as well as a maintenance manager.”
In August 2014, the TPO voted to reject payment of most of about $148,000 in invoices billed to it by Santa Ynez, but there was no mention of the $600,000 gas bill mentioned in the lawsuit. At the time, TPO members agreed with their lawyer, William Henry, that about $108,000 of the Santa Ynez invoices billed to the TPO should not be paid because the former trolley operator was asking to be paid for services such as parts replacement and trash pickup that were outside of the scope of its contract with the TPO.
They urged Henry to try and negotiate a settlement with Jeanie and Mark Meeks, the owners of the company.
In the lawsuit, the company states that as a result of the TPO’s breach of contract, the defendants owe:
—$106,776 for failing to provide safe and compliant buses to the company.
—$600,000 for reimbursement of cost of fuel.
—$54,758 for reimbursement for the cost of trash removal.
—$32,040 for reimbursement of the cost of obtaining additional office space necessary to accommodate the company.
—$21,071 for failing to apply a retroactive hourly rate increase to the 2013 fiscal year.
—$40,360 for reimbursement of the cost of redesigning bus routes.
—$94,500 for failing to provide surveillance cameras.
The TPO briefly discussed the lawsuit at Wednesday’s meeting. TPO member John Reichard questioned the basis of the lawsuit’s monetary claims.
“Where did it come from? Why do they think we owe them $600,000? It seems like something that was budgeted and monitored,” he said.
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