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Chambersburg Transit buses back on street

October 25, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg Transit Authority buses go back on the road today after being parked Thursday because the Authority could not come up with the money to pay its annual liability insurance premium.

Officials of four of the five municipalities that the buses serve saved the day. They agreed to pay part of their local subsidies in advance so the Authority could make a down payment on its insurance premium.

In addition, Keystone Health Center in Chambersburg, which relies on the public bus service to bring patients to the center, gave a $15,000 donation to the Authority, a Keystone official said.

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Last week, Eva McKula, executive director of the Authority, told representatives of the communities it serves that she needed more than $75,000 to pay the premium or the policy would be canceled Oct. 31.

The insurer agreed to accept a half-payment to keep the policy in effect.

The insurance problem represents only a portion of the Authority's financial woes.

The publicly supported bus company has been running in the red for the last three years and has accrued debt of more than $330,000, McKula said last week.

She did not return phone calls this week.

Municipalities served by Authority buses include Chambersburg, the townships of Greene, Hamilton and Washington and Waynesboro, Pa.

The Authority's annual operating budget is around $340,000, most of which comes from federal funds funneled through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The municipalities put up most of the rest. Riders pay a small portion.

Senior citizens, which include most of the passengers, ride free.

The Borough of Chambersburg's subsidy is $18,000 a year. The four smaller towns collectively put up slightly less, Bill McLaughlin, an Authority member and Chambersburg Borough Council president, said Thursday.

All but Chambersburg agreed to send in part of their annual subsides in advance to help the Authority pay its insurance, McLaughlin said. He said paying the Authority in advance "is putting good money after bad. We'd only be buying another three weeks of service."

McLaughlin said Chambersburg council members want the authority to draft a solid plan to get itself out of debt before it gives any more money.

The Authority owes the borough $17,000 for fuel needed to run its buses, Borough Manager Eric Oyer told the council Tuesday.

"We owe it to the taxpayers not to keep throwing money into something that's not going to make it," added Councilman Robert Wareham.

McLaughlin said he believed the Authority could meet its day-to-day expenses, but he didn't see how it could pay the $300,000 debt.

"I don't see how another three or six weeks of life is going to answer that question," McLaughlin said. "At some point you have to take it off life support and let one entity expire and go back and reinvent it with certain safeguards."

He called the debt a "ticking time bomb that has to be addressed."

PennDOT officials also want the Authority to have a financial plan in place before it releases any more money, McLaughlin said.

He said the Authority's board of directors meets again Monday.

Joanne Cochran, president and CEO of Keystone Health Center, said Thursday that agency's board of directors agreed to donate $15,000 in emergency funds to the bus company to keep it running.

Keystone Health was set up to be an accessible health center and that includes providing transportation to people who could not otherwise get there, Cochran said.

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