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Council to halt support for bus service

March 31, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Chambersburg Borough Councilman John Redding answered succinctly Tuesday when asked about the future of the Chambersburg Transit Authority: "It looks like the end of the line."

The council indicated Monday it no longer will financially support the cash-strapped, 14-year-old bus system.

"There's no way they can get out from under that enormous debt," Redding said. "We can't continue to pump money down that dark hole."

At Monday's council meeting, Borough Manager Eric Oyer went over the numbers of a five-year recovery plan commissioned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that showed the local share for the municipalities served by the system could top $1 million.

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Those figures were reviewed by a panel that included William G. Stead of Chambersburg, a former official with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in San Francisco, Oyer said.

The boroughs of Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., and the townships of Greene, Guilford, Hamilton and Washington would have to pay about $16 per trip, he said. With state and federal subsidies thrown in, the cost comes to about $38 per ride, Oyer said.

In recent months, ridership has averaged about 1,000 a month, authority figures show.

"Council has indicated it intends to inform PennDOT it will not participate in the proposed recovery plan," Oyer said Tuesday.

A resolution to that effect will be on the agenda for the April 12 council meeting, he said.

"It was the most negative thing I've ever heard," transit authority board member Peg Eyer said Tuesday of Oyer's presentation. "He's made up his mind he wants to get rid of us."

"It is a needed service for the people of Franklin County who cannot drive for one reason or another or have low incomes," Eyer said.

She said she will work to persuade a majority of council members to continue supporting the system.

"My only concern is somehow, some way, we can square away our obligations to the local vendors," authority member Wade Burkholder said Tuesday about local debts of approximately $241,000.

The authority was created in late 1990 to provide public transportation in the Chambersburg area. A route was added in the Waynesboro area in 1997.

In the late 1990s, the system started piling up debts and used state and federal subsidies that were meant for capital purchases to pay operational costs, an independent audit revealed.

The recovery plan estimates the five-year operational costs of the system at $1.1 million with another $1 million in debt payments. With about $1.3 million in state and federal subsidies and $195,000 in estimated revenues over that period, the local share would have been more than $633,000.

Oyer said the panel that looked at the plan said it failed to account for increases in accounts payable since May 2003; probably overstates revenues and understates expenses; and fails to account for inflation, or the cost of replacing aging vehicles. Those factors would bring the local share to more than $1 million.

Even taking the best-case scenario - including higher-than- anticipated subsidies, writing off all local debt and $250,000 in local matching funds - Oyer said the plan would fall about $500,000 short and the difference would have to be paid by local taxpayers.

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