Cumberland County Commissioners seek state probe of CAT pensions

Officials want Auditor General to examine bus company's finances

The Cumberland County Commissioners are calling on the state Auditor General’s office to examine Capital Area Transit’s finances over what they believe are “questionable practices,” including double pensions for top executives.

“One of the most egregious examples of a questionable practice came to light recently when we discovered that certain senior-level management executives at CAT are enjoying, at taxpayer expense, two public pensions from the transit agency,” commissioners Vincent DiFillippo, Jim Hertzler and Gary Eichelberger wrote in a letter to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

“Shrouded in secrecy, we only became aware of some of the details of this dubious double pension for certain CAT executives when our county’s own representatives to the CAT Board were forced to file a Right to Know request,” the commissioners added.

“We understand that this second pension for certain CAT executives is particularly generous and requires no contribution from those who benefit,” they added.

Cumberland County contributes approximately $300,000 in yearly subsidies to the bus system, county spokeswoman Heather Ilgenfritz said.

“We received the letter today and are reviewing it,” said Susan Woods, press secretary for the Department of Auditor General. “We will reach out shortly to the commissioners to discuss their request.”

CAT spokesman Robert J. Philbin said he had not yet seen the county’s release when contacted by the Business Journal.

The commissioners’ move is the latest salvo in a simmering battle over CAT’s expenses and service.

Cumberland County officials have been at odds with the Harrisburg-based transit agency for years over the level of service their county receives in exchange for contributions to the system.

County officials have been pushing for greater “regionalization” of the midstate’s various transit agencies, a policy that has seen Cumberland develop a closer relationship with the Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, formerly known as The York Adams Transportation Authority, which does business as rabbittransit.

Double pensions?

According to a statement released by the commissioners, their right-to-know request “was made as a last resort after a series of unsuccessful requests for information on the senior executive pension by Cumberland’s representative on the CAT board.”

“CAT management’s response was that no documentation existed,” the statement added.

Documentation received under the Right to Know request revealed that CAT’s top executives are provided two pensions, the commissioners said. They participate in the general pension plan for all CAT staff and all levels of management, union and non-union alike. But documentation also showed “a handful of senior executives participate in a second pension plan,” the commissioners added.

“The second executive pension is particularly generous, and costly, with higher benefits that do not require any contributions from the executives,” the statement continued.

Those individuals were not named in the statement.

CAT General Manager William Jones resigned in February, “to pursue other career interests and opportunities,” a press release stated.

CAT has contracted with Texas-based McDonald Transit Associates, a nationally recognized transit management firm, to provide interim management consulting services while the board searches for a permanent general manager, the release added.

Cumberland’s lawmakers added that their concerns “come in light of CAT’s poor service and dismal performance.” They claim the agency “spends approximately $5 million more annually, or approximately 50 percent more, to provide fixed route service than the other transit authorities in this region who serve a similar population.”

Cumberland County officials have cited PennDOT’s support for regionalization as a motivation in their own desire for such a change. The commissioners say the move would save taxpayers millions of dollars through service coordination and reduction in administrative staff.

They allege that “the senior executives at CAT who receive the dual public pensions are some of the very individuals who have been standing in the way of lower cost regionalized transit opportunities.”

CAT in January released a report stating that the system had an $11 million impact on the region’s economy last year, with more than half that amount in the city of Harrisburg.

Roger DuPuis
Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com.

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