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PennDOT to boost ailing transit authority

July 15, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A month ago, the Chambersburg Transit Authority looked like it had about run out of gas, but since then the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has agreed to help keep the bus system rolling with technical and financial assistance.

"Obviously they have enough faith in us to put the seed money in, at least for a while," board member Merle Frey said after Monday's meeting, during which it was announced that the department plans to provide more than $14,000 in funding later this month.

The money, most of which comes from the state's Public Transportation Assistance Fund, is badly needed. Board member Peg Eyer reported CTA has just $131.78 in it checking account to pay for operating costs.

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The authority also has $15,029 in another account, but that money has to be spent on capital purchases and other assets from the previous budget year, which ended June 30, according to Eyer. The state funding due to arrive July 21 can be used for maintenance and capital costs, she said.

The transportation department is assisting CTA by hiring consultants to work with the financially strapped bus system in drafting a recovery plan and a proposed budget. Board President James Jenkins said he expects to learn the department's selection within the next two weeks.

Jenkins said the recovery plan, which would detail how the authority will pay off its debts, and the budget should be prepared by mid-August, although the new budget year began July 1.

In the meantime, the system still has some imposing financial hurdles to clear.

Eyer said CTA has a liability insurance bill of nearly $3,000 due July 20. "We can't operate without paying insurance," Jenkins said.

That same day, the authority is supposed to make a $20,000 payment on a bank loan, Eyer said. She added that the bank is already aware the authority will not be able to make that payment on time.

Since last fall, CTA's financial woes have mounted with estimates of its debts running as high as $1 million. Jenkins said the Federal Transit Authority has been conducting an audit of CTA and "the report is not as bad as the general public has been led to believe."

Jenkins said federal officials have yet to inform him of the results of the audit, however.

In recent months, CTA has taken a number of steps to cut expenses and keep at least one bus rolling. In March the number of routes was cut from seven a day to one and last month service was reduced further to three days a week.

The system is down to three part-time drivers, Jenkins said. It once employed seven full- and eight part-time workers.

CTA is in the process of moving from rented space on Wolf Avenue to free temporary office space at Chambersburg's recreation center.

"We made it to July," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the authority is still seeking donations to stay in business. Board Member Sam Kuhn, he said, paid $200 for an old bus after an offer fell through. Kuhn then paid another $160 to have it towed away.

The next meeting of the authority, which has been meeting in a synagogue the past two months, will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18, in the recreation center.

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