Pa. bus line's finances to be re-examined

April 20, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The municipalities served by the Chambersburg Transit Authority will take another look at the system's five-year recovery plan, but relief from federal and state debts will not be a part of it, Borough Manager Eric Oyer said.

"In the end we're going to have to close the gap created by this debt," Oyer told the borough council Monday night. "There is no state or federal relief" for that debt.

Last Wednesday, borough officials met again with Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration officials to see if anything can be done to keep the system operating beyond June 30, Oyer said.


"We're really going to make an effort to refine the numbers as best we can so they are as realistic as they can be," Oyer said Monday of the three-hour meeting requested by the state and federal agencies.

In previous meetings, Oyer told the council that estimates of the system's debts run as high as $1.2 million.

Oyer said the parties have agreed to take another look at the authority's proposed operating budget for the five-year plan and to re-examine operational budgets from 2002-03 and 2003-04 "to see if there are justifiable costs that can be reimbursed."

The borough also will contact state and federal representatives to see if grant funds are available to prop up the system.

"We agreed to get together again in about a month and see where we are with those numbers," Oyer said.

"The local governments have said we're willing to commit roughly $250,000 to keep the buses running. That's roughly $4 a ride" in local matching funds, he said. Over the course of the recovery plan, however, the combination of operating costs and debt would bring the cost closer to $35 to $45 per ride including local, state and federal subsidies.

"As I have said repeatedly to you people, the CTA is not asking you to pay off the debt," said Peg Eyer, a member of the authority. She told the council that several thousand dollars in donations had been raised in recent months to pay off some outstanding bills and set up payment plans for others.

"We're not going to pay it off a quarter at a time, because you'd need 31/2 million quarters" Council President William McLaughlin said, referring to Eyer's statement last week that the authority could pay off its debts a nickel, dime or quarter at a time.

"We are making a dent in this," Eyer said. "For some reason, you people want us out of there."

Oyer estimated the borough would have to add one-half of a mill in real estate taxes to pay its share of the recovery plan.

Councilman Robert Wareham said taxpayers would "pay through the nose" if the municipalities agreed to fund both operations and debt on the system.

McLaughlin said the system's problems started in the late 1990s when the system used government money earmarked for capital purchases to pay for operations, bought buses it never paid for and then used them as collateral for a loan.

In addition to Chambersburg, the system also serves Waynesboro and Greene, Hamilton and Washington townships. Since last year, when the extent of the system's debts became obvious, service has been curtailed to three days a week in the Chambersburg area and two days in Waynesboro.

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