Bus authority faces deadline

June 18, 2003|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Chambersburg Transit Authority officials will meet with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials this morning to try to find out what the authority must do to survive into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The authority also faces an audit by the Federal Transportation Administration into its use of funds that were supposed to be used for capital acquisitions such as vehicles and a transit authority building that was never built.

"We're really hurting for time in terms of getting things done," said James Jenkins, president of the board of directors. The authority must have a budget and a recovery plan accepted by the department in order to receive funding.


At the same time, the financially strapped bus service must keep at least one bus running, or Jenkins said state and federal subsidies will not be forthcoming. Jenkins said state transportation officials may give the authority some leeway on meeting the July 1 deadline, but that also would mean a delay in receiving state funding.

Authority Secretary Peg Eyer said Tuesday she has been working on a recovery plan and a budget, but neither will be ready for this morning's meeting.

The strategy for a recovery plan, according to Eyer, is to pay off local vendors first, beginning with those that the authority owes $500 or less. For vendors owed more than that, Eyer said she would try and negotiate a figure.

Regarding any state and federal debts the authority owes, Eyer said she also would try and negotiate with the agencies to have the figures reduced or the debts forgiven.

"I still maintain we don't owe as much as people think we owe," Eyer said. An independent audit reviewed last month showed the authority had liabilities of more than $1 million and assets of $321,000, but those figures are nearly a year old.

Chambersburg Borough Manager Eric Oyer more recently said he estimated debts at about $1 million, but that the authority's assets were minimal.

A summary of debts as of May 12 showed the authority owed about $308,000 to local vendors, but Eyer said those numbers were prepared by the system's former executive director and may not be accurate.

"I honestly don't know," Eyer said when asked for her best estimate of the system's debt.

Jenkins said the figures may include some "double counting." He cited a federal grant for approximately $300,000 that was to go toward buying two buses and a transportation facility. About $120,000 was to have been used to buy the buses, but instead was used to cover operational costs.

Money was borrowed from a bank to purchase the buses, Jenkins said. If the buses are paid off, he said that would reduce by $120,000 the amount of money that would have to be paid back to the Federal Transportation Administration.

The CTA also will be moving its offices from rented space on Wolf Avenue to the Recreation Center on Third Street by July 1, according to Eyer. She said Herb Dolaway, the borough's director of recreation, agreed to allow the CTA to use a small office rent-free for the summer, but the CTA will have to furnish its own phone line.

The CTA already has had to move its buses from Wolf Avenue to an area at Letterkenny Army Depot.

Board member Sam Kuhn also noted that a number of buses are or soon will be in need of vehicle inspections. Several also require maintenance for everything from leaking roofs and moldy carpets to broken air conditioners and balky transmissions.

The authority also learned that a shed it was renting was broken into earlier this month. Kuhn said a broken hydraulic jack and a spare wheel were stolen, but tools and other more valuable equipment were left behind.

This week, the system scaled back from one route five days a week to operating on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The system, which ran seven routes until March, now has one driver, who also does office work, and a part-time driver.

The number of people riding the bus rose from 575 in April to 745 in May, according to the monthly ridership report.

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