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City asked for help with bus finances

November 04, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

A ballooning County Commuter deficit has Washington County officials looking to the City of Hagerstown for help in tuning up the bus system's ailing finances.

The county is asking the city for $136,000 annually to prop up the system.

A decreasing number of riders combined with federal and state budget cutbacks resulted in an unfunded deficit of $157,000 last year, on top of the $200,000 the county pays each year for the service.

County Commuter Transit Supervisor Kevin Cerrone and Ted Wolford, transportation superintendent, recommended that the city pay 10 percent of the $1.36 million cost of operating the bus system.

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About 80 percent of the bus routes are inside the city limits, Cerrone said.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers suggested the county offer to give the bus system to the city. Commissioner James R. Wade said he'd agree to that but didn't think the city would accept.

"They are good ideas; that's all I'm going to say," said Commissioner John S. Shank.

Bowers asked why, for instance, Ringgold residents should have to pay taxes to support a bus system they do not use.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he didn't think it was realistic to expect the city to come up with the money.

Most members of Hagerstown City Council said Tuesday that they aren't interested in subsidizing the bus system.

"That's typical. The county likes to give up everything that's a loser for them," Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said.

Boyer and Councilmen Lewis C. Metzner and William M. Breichner said city taxpayers already subsidize the system through their county taxes.

"I think it's worth discussing," said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II.

"It doesn't sound like it would be an unreasonable request since it is mostly our citizens who are served," said Councilman J. Wallace McClure.

Metzner said the real problem isn't who pays to subsidize the bus service, but how it is operated.

"We're in this because we're (buying) big buses to hold three people," he said.

Wade, who said he's never seen more than five people aboard a bus, said vans would serve the purpose. He asked Cerrone to look into the possibility of replacing the buses.

"We've been talking about this for three years. It's got to be one of the most frustrating parts of county government," Wade said.

Cerrone said the county's current plan is to sell five older buses and replace them with three smaller buses. The county would still have 10 large 1994 buses.

Cerrone said if the county sells the buses before they are 10 years old, they must reimburse the federal government for a portion of the purchase price.

The bus system's ridership dropped by 7,000 last year to 292,500, and federal and state grants were cut by $98,000. The county had budgeted for ridership revenue of $267,000, but the bus system collected $232,000.

Cerrone said part of the drop in ridership was due to the elimination of the Boonsboro-Sharpsburg-Keedysville and Hancock routes in 1996 and the move of the main bus transfer station from Public Square to 300 W. Washington St.

Cerrone said he thinks most riders have returned to the system and noted people can still catch buses at Public Square.

Cerrone also is considering changes to the bus routes, including addition of service to Prime Retail's proposed outlet mall on Sharpsburg Pike and to the Staples/Hopewell Road industrial corridor.

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