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Cumberland commissioner: Transit changes could cost $1.8M in local funding

By , - Last modified: February 26, 2013 at 12:04 PM

Cumberland County Commissioner Jim Hertzler has said Gov. Tom Corbett's proposed changes to how transit systems are funded could add nearly $800,000 more to local funding shares for Capital Area Transit.

"Without a new mechanism that makes sense to finance that higher local mass transit contribution, the onerous and inequitable property tax remains our only revenue source, and our homeowners will be forced to pay even more — without regard, once again, to their ability to pay or spend or whether they use public transportation or not," Hertzler said in a statement yesterday afternoon. "There has got to be a better way."

Cumberland and Dauphin counties, and Harrisburg, are scheduled to contribute more than $1.03 million to CAT under calendar year 2013, or about 13.7 percent of the total, according to CAT calculations circulated by Hertzler. He is Cumberland County's liaison to CAT and the Harrisburg Area Transportation Study, the region's metro transportation planning group.

The local match under the basic increases proposed by Corbett would be $1.77 million, according to the calculations.

The transit changes were part of Corbett's transportation funding proposals in his budget address earlier in the month. They include:

• Gradual increases to local match for capital transit projects from 3.33 percent to 20 percent.

• Increased local operating match from 15 percent to 20 percent.

• Requirement for studies of consolidating regional mass transit authorities for efficiency. If there are savings and authorities begin consolidating, the local operating match will drop to 15 percent. If they don't adopt changes, the local funding will increase to 25 percent.

Central Pennsylvania's transit authorities — CAT, Lebanon Transit, York County's Rabbittransit, and Red Rose Transit in Lancaster County — are part of an expanded study for consolidation feasibility.

If those systems would reject consolidation, the total local match — including capital money — would increase to $2.79 million for CAT, according to Hertzler's numbers.

The added expenses would be problematic to cities such as Harrisburg digging out from under its debt, or for counties such as Cumberland that just went through a difficult budget year in which they had to increase taxes and freeze employee pay.

Additionally, not all consolidations are equal or easily obtained, Cumberland County Commissioner Gary Eichelberger said. His worry is that the proposals are heavy-handed without consideration to basic realities at the local level, he said.

"The commonwealth needs to address this objectively, and I would be concerned if this develops as an ultimatum to go down a particular path without more knowledge on where that path takes us," Eichelberger said in an email. "If an ultimatum exists, then I think it calls into question the objectivity of any consolidation study that is done before the study is even begun."

To review the CAT calculations, click here.

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