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Transit hopes to keep buses rolling

March 19, 2003|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg Transit Authority officials are asking the community to rally around the cash-strapped bus service through July, when they believe the worst of the current crisis will pass.

"Although CTA may be in dire straits in funding, I see the glass half full," Jim Jenkins, president of the CTA board, told the Chambersburg Borough Council on Tuesday. "After July, we may be able to repay the favor in some way."

The agency was more than $300,000 in debt last fall, but that has been knocked down to $235,000, said Eva McKula, executive director of the authority.

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However, the situation reached "crisis proportions" earlier this month when the Internal Revenue Service demanded payment of nearly $65,000 in back payroll taxes the CTA owes by March 31, and then threatened to come after the CTA board members individually, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said.

The authority made a good-faith payment of $2,500 Tuesday, and John Persun, an accountant negotiating with the IRS on behalf of the CTA, said the service has extended the deadline until May 15.

CTA officials have come up with a short-term recovery plan that includes remaining in operation in a limited capacity and using a fourth-quarter payment of $55,000 from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to pay the bulk of its IRS bill.

An out-of-court settlement in a suit filed by a former employee, higher insurance costs, cuts in federal and state subsidies and higher operating costs also contributed to the authority's deficit.

McKula said PennDOT officials have said they want to see the authority reduce its schedule to two routes, possibly one in Waynesboro, Pa., and one in Chambersburg, but to continue operating. The CTA slashed its routes to five earlier this week.

The board will meet Thursday to try and determine the routes and if it will continue operating through the fiscal year, which ends July 1, Jenkins said.

McKula said if the authority hangs on, it will see increased funding of about $90,000 from PennDOT because of increased ridership last year.

Council members and the community expressed support for the authority Tuesday.

Joann Cochran with Keystone Health in Chambersburg said she is working with the transit authority to develop a long-term business plan.

"We are not going to let the transit authority shut down. It is vital to the health of the community," she said.

"It's a tremendous asset to the community," Councilman John Redding said of the transit authority. "However, I think we have to be able to afford it. I'm encouraged and I have the faith."

Councilman Scott Thomas said someone needs to look at a long-term solution to keep the system running.

"There are no taxi cabs, and without public transportation, Chambersburg has a dilemma," Thomas said, suggesting the possibility of a flat tax to subsidize the authority.

More than 50 community residents showed up at the council meeting to see what would become of the authority, whose riders are largely seniors.

"CTA has been a godsend for me," said Kay Kimple, a United Towers resident. "I imagine 80 percent of us ride the trolley."

Resident Michael Rider said without the transit system, he could not get to the Thompson Institute of Technology, where he takes classes in hopes of getting a better job.

"If we lose CTA, my employment opportunities will be limited, and I will be extremely isolated," he said.

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