Read about the ODOT STIF grant and our relationship with TriMet

The Statewide Transportation Improvement Fund was created to improve or expand public transportation service in Oregon. The STIF has a “Formula Fund” where operators do not have to compete for funds and there is a “Discretionary Fund” which is a competitive process. Frog Ferry competed for and won a 2020 STIF grant of $200K to help fund an Operational Feasibility Study and Finance Plan. Frog Ferry competed for and won a 2022 STIF grant of $500K to help fund 1: A Pilot Project Plan (comprised of five sub plans) and 2: A Pilot Project Operations Plan. Each grant application process took six months with four committee reviews/presentations. The Pilot Project plan was completed and delivered to ODOT and TriMet in Sept. 2021. Neither ODOT nor TriMet have had any objections to the caliber of work produced in either STIF grant; in fact, ODOT has praised the work product.

It is ODOT’s money that funds the STIF grants. TriMet is a “pass-through” entity. TriMet is the local designated regional grantee, and TriMet receives half of all STIF formula funds for Oregon. As a nonprofit, Frog Ferry can not directly apply. Thus, Frog Ferry is considered a subrecipient.

  • Changing documentation and invoices that don’t add up: Frog Ferry completed the 2020 STIF grant deliverable, submitted two invoices, charging an overhead rate on behalf of Frog Ferry, and both were paid without documentation required or any questions. For the 2022 grant, Frog Ferry invoiced the same way and TriMet requested more documentation. Frog Ferry supplied documentation to show the work/time that many subcontractors and consultants had put into the work that included pro bono time. TriMet indicated that no pro bono time could be included as part of the invoices. In addition, contracts, scopes of work and invoices were required of all contractors; while we had contracts and scopes of work in place, we did not have signed scopes for everyone.
  • Founder’s timecard and billing: The grant application was written anticipating the Pilot Project Plan would charge an overhead rate of $200/hr. by Frog Ferry and most of that work would be completed by Founder Susan Bladholm. Susan was an FTE at the time the contract was put into place, and it was anticipated that she would continue as an FTE, being compensated at $74/hr. When the first payment was delayed by four months, Frog Ferry could not make payroll and the Frog Ferry board changed Susan’s status from an FTE to a contractor.
      • Did Susan change her own employment status? She did not. While the board authorized Susan to bill out at $200/hr., her invoice for October 2022 was for $108/hr.
      • Did Susan ever bill Frog Ferry at $200/hr.? She did not.
      • What is the going rate for ferry/transit planners? It ranges around $250/hr. TriMet has taken issue with the number of hours that Susan has worked, and 80 hr. work weeks are disputed; Susan and the Frog Ferry organization stand behind the hours reported.
      • Was the change from the FTE to the contractor role a way for Frog Ferry to invoice for more money? It was not—due to wage and labor law, organizations can not have an FTE on payroll and not pay them.  Bladholm has been compensated $25K since October first with no additional benefits.
  • 20% match It is true that Frog Ferry did not set aside 20% in matching dollars for this grant as required. However, the Murdock Foundation funding was the match at the time the grant was applied for in October 2020. Frog Ferry expended those funds in Fall 2021. TriMet has all of Frog Ferry’s bank records for the past two years and knows that funding had been depleted and did not note a needed match for the January 26, 2022, payment (from the September 27th invoice). But TriMet deducted the 20% match amount from Frog Ferry’s February 1, 2022, invoice rather than providing an opportunity to look at expenses that may be used for a match. For the February 1 invoice of $54K, TriMet agreed to pay $7K, deducting to account for the match. Going forward, Frog Ferry will need to indicate expenses to account for a match of 20% of the total amount invoiced.


Frog Ferry has responded quickly to TriMet’s requests and has adjusted invoices and documentation in attempt to comply with TriMet’s requirements. There has been no fiscal impropriety. Frog Ferry has a CPA who chairs the Frog Ferry Finance Committee and another CPA who handles accounting and financial reporting. Frog Ferry had never had a conversation with the TriMet Finance or Legal team until October 2021. Had Frog Ferry known in advance that the documentation requirements would change for this grant, we would have approached this grant very differently.

What’s Next:  We are in the process of working with TriMet to come together and discuss a better way moving forward to review and reconcile expenses. While we concede that we have not operated in accordance with all the contract requirements, we have operated in good faith and there has been absolutely no fiscal impropriety. Frog Ferry has asked for a meeting/conversation/mediation since mid-February to try to figure out how to successfully invoice for the work done. The contract states that mediation should be pursued in the case of a dispute. We are hopeful that Frog Ferry and TriMet can come to the table to resolve this grant program, give Frog Ferry the money as ODOT originally intended, and discuss how the two organizations can co-exist for the betterment of our community.


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