Borough won't pay transit authority debts

July 27, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - The Chambersburg Transit Authority became inactive July 16 when the last bus made its final run, but the Chambersburg Borough Council passed a resolution reaffirming that Monday night to remind the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that it will not repay the authority's debts.

"We have repeatedly taken the position and the law supports the position ... that the local municipalities are not responsible for the debt incurred by the Chambersburg Transit Authority," Borough Manager Eric Oyer told the council.

The resolution was in response to published comments made recently by a department official indicating future transportation funding to the borough could be negatively affected if the issue of the authority's debt was not resolved, Oyer said.


Oyer said Monday there has since been some "severe backpedaling on the part of PennDOT" regarding the remarks by Chris Johnston, chief of the Division of Rural and Innercity Transportation.

"The idea of attempting to put the money on us was entirely ludicrous," Oyer said.

"The department does not look to the borough of Chambersburg or any of the other participating municipalities to repay the debt," Department of Transportation spokesman Kirk Wilson said Monday. He said the state's Municipal Authority Act protects local governments from being held responsible for the debts of authorities.

Johnston was on vacation Monday, Wilson said.

The resolution declared that "without operating funds, the CTA would be considered inactive after July 16, 2004."

Created in the early 1990s, the authority ran a fixed-route bus system that served Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pa., and Greene, Hamilton and Washington townships.

The authority ran up federal, state and local debts in recent years estimated at $800,000 to $1 million, according to Wilson.

In June, the department asked the municipalities to provide their local matching funds for 2003-04 and the first quarter of 2004-05 to keep the system operating through the end of September. The department later decided to withhold its subsidies, effectively shutting down the system.

Several factors figured into the department's decision, according to Oyer. The resignation of James Jenkins as president of the authority's board of directors and lack of an executive director left the organization effectively leaderless, he said.

The authority also failed to produce all the local matching funds required to stay in operation and could not make an insurance payment due July 20.

"They saw a CTA that could not manage anymore," Oyer said of the department.

"It took them a long time to see that," Councilman John Redding said.

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