November 20, 2014

Elyria
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County kills transit routes

ELYRIA — The fixed-route runs of Lorain County Transit will end Dec. 31, according to county officials.

Lorain County commissioners announced Tuesday that all fixed routes by Lorain County Transit buses will stop effective Dec. 31. (CT file photo.)

Lorain County commissioners announced Tuesday that all fixed routes by Lorain County Transit buses will stop effective Dec. 31. (CT file photo.)

The county also will end its relationship with Greyhound, which will mean Dec. 31 will be the last time the bus line stops outside LCT’s Third Street offices in Elyria, said county Administrator Jim Cordes.

In the wake of voters rejecting a 0.5 percentage point sales tax hike last month, the county can no longer afford to funnel $500,000 per year to transit, Cordes said.

“Unfortunately, the people it affects are the people who have no other options,” he said.

But Cordes said the county will still try to keep LCT’s Dial-A-Ride service — which allows customers to call to have buses pick them up — operating in some capacity.

That will allow the county to still keep a hand in the public transportation business and maintain a relationship with the Federal Transportation Administration, Commissioner Lori Kokoski said.

“Once you shut it down completely, it’s almost impossible to restart,” she said.

Since transit will still be a functioning public transportation system, it will remain eligible for federal money and could be restarted fairly quickly if new money becomes available, she said.

That’s why the county also will hang onto 13 new buses it purchased earlier this year with about $712,000 in federal stimulus money. If the buses were to be sold, the money likely would have to go to the FTA, Commissioner Ted Kalo said, but he also warned that the federal government could also mandate the buses be sold or given to another transit system.

Kalo said it’s a shame that the county has to give up transit because the $500,000 the county contributes each year brings in about $5 million in state and federal money to round out the LCT budget.

Cordes said the county already has notified Cincinnati-based First Transit Inc. of the decision to effectively shutter LCT.

Kalo said that means between 50 and 60 First Transit employees who drive and maintain the buses as well as the skeleton staff that still mans LCT will lose their jobs.

The commissioners had long warned that transit could be among the first county services cut if the sales tax was rejected in November.

The cash-strapped department isn’t a mandated service, and in an era with dwindling county funds, it simply isn’t viable to keep it operational, Kalo and Kokoski said.

“We just can’t afford to run transit like we are now,” Kokoski said.

This isn’t the first time transit has faced cuts in recent years, but the previous proposed cuts — which riders of the service vehemently opposed — have been either avoided or limited by one-time cash infusions.

This summer, the federal government allowed the county to spend about $400,000 out of $4 million in federal stimulus money on operations, which minimized cuts although Sunday service was still eliminated. The rest of that $4 million, which must be used for transportation infrastructure, will be used to finish renovating the old train depot in Elyria, Kalo said.

In 2008, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency gave the county $645,000 which allowed the commissioners to avoid making cuts at that time.

The commissioners also warned that the transit cuts won’t be the last in the county.

Kalo estimates that the commissioners will need to slash between $3 million and $4 million from the county’s general fund budget for 2010.

The commissioners have put aside the money they have collected from the increased sales tax since it went into effect in April for use next year. But since voters rejected the increase, the county will have to stop collecting it in April 2010 and can’t ask voters for another increase until 2011.

Although the county is looking at some possible one-time measures to minimize the cuts, Kalo said that simply won’t be enough. And he said he’d prefer to spread the cuts out over two years rather than delaying until 2011, when the cuts would be much more painful because of the delay.

The commissioners have budget hearings scheduled over the next three Thursdays to talk with department heads and other elected officials about what their financial needs are.

More than 75 county workers, including sheriff’s deputies, lost their jobs when the commissioners slashed $6 million from the 2009 general fund budget.

“I hope I don’t get cut anymore,” county Sheriff Phil Stammitti said. “I’m shorthanded already.”

Among the other possible cuts being examined are the Lorain County Regional Airport and the county’s economic development apparatus.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.