Who these days can say that a $3 million cut won’t impact operations?
Cool-as-a-cucumber Luzerne County Transportation Authority Executive Director Stanley Strelish can, because as it turns out, the supposedly cash-strapped authority has a tidy nest egg of $7 million tucked away for a rainy day.
After determining that hordes of ghosts did not ride LCTA buses after all, nor did senior citizens passed off as supernatural creatures, the state recently concluded that the authority was overpaid $2,143,337 over six years.
The state Department of Transportation announced January 30 it is withholding from the authority almost $2.7 million in operating funds and another $479,655 in capital improvement funding, our two local dailies reported.
Executive Director Strelish indicated the day of the PennDOT announcement that there is no need to worry, that this will not disrupt bus or van service.
“We have ample funds to cover this,” Strelish told the Times Leader. “We have $7 million in reserve.”
Well, if that’s the case, why have transportation authority officials gone before the county council crying the blues that if the county reduces its contribution, services could end for the area’s most vulnerable citizens? Not be disrupted, mind you. End.
Meanwhile, the rest of us are facing an 8-percent county tax hike while a half-million dollars is budgeted for the apparently financially healthy transportation authority.
I’ll admit, county councilman, who is now vice-chairman, Edward Brominski sometimes acts a bit whacky, but he’s the one who blew the whistle that the authority’s buses may have been haunted. And to show he’s dead serious, he told The Citizens’ Voice that even if it were his own mother who took over payments, she would have to pay a penalty. Not sure, though, why he felt the need to bring mamma into this.
LCTA Chairman Sal Licata sang the praises of Strelish, saying if it weren’t for him “the $2 million hit would have devastated the authority.”
Who can argue with that? We should all be so lucky to be able to sustain a “$2 million hit” and continue on our merry way. So thank you, Mr. Strelish.
Licata told the TL he supports Strelish “100 percent” and pointed out that ridership numbers dropped when bus drivers had a grievance over some issue and were miffed at management but rose again when the issue was resolved. Darn those union drivers.
But I’m confused here. Is Licata saying that the bus drivers stopped counting ghosts boarding buses to somehow get even with management? Management claimed it never told them to do that.
Councilman Brominski said Ghostgate broke when disgruntled bus drivers stopped padding passenger counts after the authority installed cameras on the buses, which the drivers felt were invasive. Mr. Licata insinuated that the drivers stopped inflating the numbers because the cameras would have caught them doing so.
The cameras would also have caught them texting and/or talking on their cell phones while driving, which — let’s face it — would put the ghosts and the seniors at risk. So, yeah, for the cameras. Money well spent.
It’s still hard to know who is to blame for Ghostgate because when this story first broke, Executive Director Strelish said the bus drivers couldn’t count properly, so he did the right thing and sent them to bus rider counting school, which apparently solved the problem. The ghosts simply disappeared.
So what about that $2,143,337 overpayment to the authority from the state? Did that disappear, too? How was it spent, we’d like to know.
And if the authority ripped off the state, did it also rip off the county? Was the county’s contribution impacted by the imaginary bus riders?
Considering it has a considerable surplus, maybe, if we’re lucky, the authority will cut the county a break and allow it to forgo making a contribution so that looming 8-percent tax hike will also disappear. Taxpayers need the savings more than the authority apparently does.
Now we have to wonder what else is down the road. Will anyone actually be held accountable for cooking the books if that’s what they did?
And regarding that $7 million nest egg? Normally, one would conclude that this authority must be under great management to have that much money saved.
But then again, one would have to conclude that there is no such thing as ghosts. And, now we all know that at least for a while, there were.