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Borough Council balks at bus recovery plan

March 09, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Borough of Chambersburg could pay $12 to $18.50 per bus rider, excluding state and federal subsidies, if it accepts a proposed recovery plan for the Chambersburg Transit Authority system, according to Borough Manager Eric Oyer.

Monday night Oyer told the borough council the state average expense per passenger is $6.88, including the money paid municipal transit authorities by the state and federal governments.

"The biggest difference (between the local and state average cost per ride)... is the trailer of debt this bus has to pull," borough attorney Thomas Finucane said.

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The council spent an hour discussing the recovery plan commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which calls for eliminating the financially-strapped system's debt in five years. Finucane said that includes about $600,000 owed to state and federal transportation agencies, a $115,000 bank loan, $79,000 owed to vendors and $47,000 in borough and township loans.

Chambersburg, Waynesboro, Pa., and the townships of Greene, Hamilton and Washington would pay anywhere from $771,000 to $1.2 million over five years, Oyer said.

At its current level of operation, Oyer said the system carries about 13,000 riders a year. Over five years, he estimated each rider will cost about $11.90 in local dollars at the low end of the scale.

At an average ridership of 34 passengers a day, three days a week in Chambersburg, Finucane said it would almost be more practical to lease a car for every rider.

"After innumerable hours on this thing, I find myself increasingly uneasy about what I know about it," Oyer said. The plan does not follow generally accepted accounting principles and "the numbers tend to move around," he said.

Projections of revenues and expenditures, he said, "are overly optimistic."

Authority President James Jenkins urged the council to negotiate with the department of transportation. "PennDOT wants to see CTA continue," he said.

"We've got to have real numbers" before approving a recovery plan, Council President William McLaughlin said.

"There's no way we can come up with an extra $125,000 to $130,000 a year to pay off that indebtedness to the state and federal governments," said McLaughlin. Oyer said the borough's portion of the local share could mean higher property taxes, and no money was budgeted for the system in 2004.

The recovery plan calls for the resignations of the authority's board of directors, to be replaced or reappointed by the borough. It also calls for a full-time administrator and a subcontractor to run the system.

None of that will happen, unless the municipalities sign off on the plan. McLaughlin suggested the state and federal agencies write off their debt, while Councilman Carl Helman said those debts could be restructured "more creatively" over a longer period of time.

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