SCAT and MCAT one step closer to privatization

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SARASOTA FL, --- A merger between Sarasota and Manatee county bus transit systems is one step closer to being a reality. Both counties are considering an inter-local agreement to operator the public bus systems as one.  A move that has some Sarasota county residents like Mathew Hightower on edge.            

"Welcome to sweet tomatoes it's always good to have you folks here," said Hightower as I walking into restaurant.

Hightower is a greeter at Sweet Tomatoes in The Landing and despite being wheelchair bound and having Cerebral palsy, he's managed to maintain his employment. Hightower says Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) plays a major role in him keeping his job.

"I live with my mom she's battling bone cancer and she can't drive any more so without SCAT and the other venders I wouldn't be able to get to work," Hightower added.

Tuesday Sarasota County officials discussed the future of SCAT service. Hightower and many other residents say they're worried they could lose their only reliable means of transportation.

"They'll raise the rate, and $10 is a lot of money and they need to think about it before they sell SCAT to a company," said Hightower.

Sarasota County Commissioners discussing the possibility of merging their transportation system with Manatee County's.  The two would contract out the county run bus system to a  private company.  That company would run the public bus system as a for profit entity and manage the day to day operations. But riders aren't the only one concerned about the change many SCAT employees say they are worried about their jobs.

"The different company's have a bad track record of detailing unions and we are a unionized organization and they don't have a very good track record of keeping a valid pay and they have a high turn over rate," current bus driver Teresa Turner.

In addition to the possibility of losing their jobs many worry about how the system will impact their pensions.

"I'm currently in the Florida State Retirement System and I would lose that status and it would be privatized. I feel like I will lose some of my independence if I lose my Florida pension," added Turner.

The inter-local agreement is currently with Manatee County.  If they agree to the current terms the next step would be several public hearings.