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Lebanon County ponders regional transit authority

Written by John Latimer/Lebanon Daily News | Feb 12, 2016 8:44 AM
Lebanon_toby_fauver.jpg

Toby Fauver, PennDOT's deputy secretary for mulitmodal transportation, updates administrators for Lebanon Transit and the Lebanon County commissioners Wednesday about a public transit regional consolidation study.(Photo: John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News)

Partners would include Capital Area Transit and Rabbittransit

(Lebanon) -- The Lebanon County commissioners, in consultation with Lebanon Transit administrators, are considering joining neighboring counties as part of  PennDOT's plan to regionalize public transportation in South Central Pennsylvania.

Planners at PennDOT have been studying regionalization since 2011 to determine if combining transit authorities would create cost savings.

During Phase I, the study, which included Lebanon and seven other counties, determined $5 million in administrative costs could be saved annually by consolidating the transit agencies.

When Berks and Lancaster decided to merge and dropped out of the study, Franklin County was added to the mix, and the savings in Phase II of the study was adjusted to $2 million, largely from eliminating about 30 top level administrative positions.

The regional consolidation study is coming to a close, and county commissioners in Lebanon, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Perry and York must soon come to a decision on whether to participate.

The end result could be a merger among all or some of the counties, or no merger at all, said Toby Fauver, PennDOT's deputy secretary of multimodal transportation.

Fauver gave an update on the study to the Lebanon County commissioners and Lebanon Transit administrators, including Executive Director Teri Giurintano and several members of Lebanon Transit's board, on Wednesday.

The county's incentive for joining Lebanon Transit with authorities, such as Capital Area Transit and Rabbittransit would be the forgiveness of paying the local state matching funds for the next five years. In the case of Lebanon Transit, that would mean a total savings of $536,000. Because otherwise mandatory funding increases would be delayed during the five-year period, the county's saving over 10 years would be $710,000.

"The whole process of looking at the consolidation of transit agencies has been out there a long time," he said. "We are trying to bring it to a conclusion, one way or the other. Or, maybe a pathway for some people to move forward for consolidation and for others to not do it would be fine."

Fauver explained that several concerns raised by counties have been addressed  by a Critical Issues Committee that included representation from each authority, including Lebanon County transportation planners Jon Fitzkee and Tom Kotay, who served as committee member and alternate, respectively.

One critical issue the committee potentially resolved was proposing to maintain local control with the existing authorities.

Under the plan as it stands now, Fauver said, the boards of Lebanon Transit and the other authorities will remain intact and have control over their state and federal operating funds to make decisions regarding service routes, equipment and contracts with employees. Even the Lebanon Transit name and color of the buses would remain, he said.

"The Lebanon Transit authority as a municipal authority would continue to exist and would continue to manage the employees who would deliver the transit service and maintain the service, and would continue to own the facilities," he said.

When asked by Commissioner Bill Ames about Giurintano's future, Fauver said it would be up to the county, stating that job loss would likely be through attrition and not mass layoffs.

"We've suggested in the past that reductions not be painful ones," he said. "You don't turn off one system and turn on another system the next day, and give a whole series of people pink slips. It is not a good idea."

Also of concern was the governance structure of the new organization.

Fauver explained that a new regional municipal authority would be created as an umbrella over the various transit agencies, and it would be governed by a charter that would be written by them. Its responsibility would include the fiscal analysis and accounting, applying for grants and general management that is being duplicated under the current system.

"There wouldn't be administrative employees in the individual authorities. The administrative authorities would all come under the regional authority," he said. "We tried to strike a bit of a balance, so there would still be local control over service and local decision-making over service. And the funding management and administrative management, and compliance with state and federal rules would happen at a regional level."

The regional authority would be overseen by its own board of directors, with each transit authority's representation determined by the amount of its local match.

If all eight counties decided to merge, Fauver said, a 10-member board would be created with Perry and Franklin counties having non-voting members because they don't make a local match. Because it is a smaller authority with a smaller local match, Lebanon Transit would have just one board member. While CAT, representing Cumberland and Dauphin counties, and Rabbitransit, representing York and Adams counties, would have five and four board members, respectively.

Fauver said he was in favor of regionalization but was not trying to push Lebanon or the other counties in that direction. He also noted that should a county join and want to drop out a year or two later, it could do so. Counties could also join later if they chose not to participate at the outset, he added.

A Feb. 26 date on a decision of whether or not to participate had been set, but Fauver said he still must speak with representatives from two other counties involved, and the decision date is likely to be moved to the middle of March.

*This article is part of a content-sharing agreement between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News.

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