KINGSTON — The Luzerne County Transportation Authority board wants to know why County Council hasn’t contributed its local share towards authority operations this year, even though council voted in February to withhold most of it.
Authority Executive Director Stanley Strelish on Tuesday told the board the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation requires a 15-percent local match of state funding for operational costs in order to be eligible for the state funding.
“As per design, we were supposed to receive our first payment of approximately $242,000 on Nov. 1 of last year and we still haven’t received it. So I’m going to draft a letter and send it to (county Manager Bob) Lawton to find out why we didn’t receive the money yet,” Strelish said, adding that another $242,000 must be transferred by May 1.
The board voted unanimously to have Strelish do so.
Last year, the county had budgeted $500,000 for the authority in 2014. But a new council re-opened the budget to make changes this year, and at Councilman Edward Brominski’s suggestion, voted on Feb. 15 to reduce the allocation by $316,000.
Originally intended to help lower a real estate tax increase, the $316,000 was put into a contingency fund because it would have lowered taxes only by $1 on a $100,000 property.
Brominski suggested the action after PennDOT said it would withhold $2.7 million in operating funds from the authority, citing years of alleged inflated reporting of senior citizen ridership numbers. Brominski brought the “ghost rider” allegation to light, saying drivers told him they were instructed to pad senior citizen ridership counts to increase state funding.
Strelish in January said the authority has a $7 million reserve that will be tapped so its routes and staff of 145 can continue operating while state funding is withheld. He estimated $300,000 to $400,000 of the reserve is from county funds and that he had been contemplating the option of using this money to reduce the county’s 2014 payment.
In other business, the board voted to approve a three-year contract with van drivers in the authority’s Shared Ride program represented by Teamsters Local 401. The new contract, which went into effect retroactively on Jan. 1, awards 2-percent, 2.5-percent and 3-percent annual raises.
The new contract also established a defined contribution retirement plan, with the authority matching up to 5 percent of employee contributions. The van drivers had been working under a contract negotiated with the former county commissioners when the program was operated by the county Transportation Department.