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PennDOT to help ailing transit service

June 19, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Transit Authority may be on "the road to recovery" after the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation agreed to hire a consultant to help it draft a recovery plan and a budget, according to board member Peg Eyer.

"They're going to work with us. They don't want to see us fail," Eyer said Wednesday afternoon. She had attended the meeting in Harrisburg, Pa., with Board President James Jenkins and board members Sam Kuhn and Wade Burkholder.

Eyer said the department has a pool of approved consultants and would assign one to the task.

"They're going to try and get us on the right road. The road to recovery," Eyer said.

The new budget year for CTA begins July 1, but the authority had not been able to put together either the recovery plan or a budget. Putting together either of those plans has been hampered by the lack of an administrator since former executive director Eva McKula resigned at the end of last year.

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The recovery plan will outline the authority's plan to reduce its debt, which has been estimated at $1 million or more. The confused state of the authority's books, as well as some disagreement over how some of those debts are being counted, makes that number hard to pin down, Eyer said Tuesday.

In March, the authority reduced the number of routes from seven to one to cut costs and keep at least one bus rolling while it tried to put its finances in order. This week, the one remaining route in the Chambersburg area was reduced from five to three days a week.

The bus route in Waynesboro, Pa., and the surrounding Washington Township was shut down in March, but Ardie Winters, a CTA board member and Waynesboro councilman, said there is still a need.

"A lot of people are depending on the bus system in Waynesboro, even if it's only three days a week," he said.

"It was a very positive meeting," Louise Tinkler, the department's manager for rural bus programs, said Wednesday afternoon. She confirmed the department plans to hire a consultant for the authority and said Jenkins was drafting a news release.

Portions of Greene, Hamilton and Guilford townships also are included in its service area. Matching funds from those municipalities are required as part of the system's budget.

"We made our position clear that a recovery plan has to include the total liquidation of debt for the borough to remain a participant in the authority," Chambersburg Council President William F. McLaughlin said Wednesday. He also asked why PennDOT did not intervene earlier, before the financial problems of the authority escalated.

"There was no intervention from PennDOT till last year," he said, noting that several previous audits had shown the authority was in financial trouble.

"There was a two- or three-year period where there was handwriting on the wall," said McLaughlin, a former board member and treasurer for CTA.

"I don't know if it's too little, too late," he said. "PennDOT can make a lot of this go away because they can increase the grant" to CTA.

McLaughlin suggested the authority get out of the business of running the system itself. He said the authority board could determine what level of service to provide and then hire a private contractor to hire the drivers, run the routes and maintain buses.

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