ELYRIA – U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton will work to divert unused federal stimulus money from the train station restoration project in Elyria to assist Lorain County Transit, whose fixed routes could come to an end on Dec. 31 without outside help, her chief of staff said Friday.
“Congresswoman Sutton is pushing for a modification that would allow additional unused allocated funds to be utilized for operating costs during these challenging economic times,” said Nichole Francis Reynolds, Sutton’s chief of staff.
Lorain County Commissioners Ted Kalo and Lori Kokoski said they are hopeful that at least some – if not all – transit routes could be saved.
Kalo said he would divert the money “in a heartbeat.”
President Barack Obama reportedly has seven different appropriations bills to sign before the end of the year, Kalo said. Just how much could be diverted is up in the air, Kalo said. Both the U.S. House and Senate would have to approve the change, he said.
Kokoski also expressed interest in saving transit by diverting money from the train station renovation to operations.
“I would love to do that,” Kokoski said.
The third commissioner, Betty Blair, could not be reached for comment.
Lorain County Administrator James Cordes said he plans to give Sutton’s office exact numbers for the amount of unspent dollars for the train station renovation on Monday.
Cordes said the county is expecting bids in the next several weeks on Phase III, which involves work on the parking lot and exterior of the building. That portion of the project money – approximately $1.5 million – is unspent, Cordes said.
That money was part of $4 million in federal stimulus money allocated to Lorain County to renovate the old New York Central building on East Avenue, a block north of Broad Street. Earlier, $400,000 of that $4 million allocation was diverted to help save transit’s fixed routes over the summer although Saturday routes were eliminated at that time.
Cordes said he couldn’t provide an exact dollar figure for how much money was left because Karen Davis, the project manager for the county, has the most up-to-date information on the train station project and she was not at work Friday.
Sutton announced in June that transit was awarded the $4 million.
Reynolds said that Sutton worked to ensure that transit would be able to use up to 10 percent of that funding for its operating costs earlier this year and could attempt to divert more money to operations now given the gravity of the situation.
The county’s share of operating costs is some $500,000 a year, and there are other costs because some staff members also work on transit, Cordes said.
The Lorain County Employment Network estimates about 300 people could lose their jobs if all of the fixed routes of Lorain County Transit are eliminated by the end of December. An additional 40 drivers would lose their jobs.
The county has been flooded with phone calls after the county notified Cincinnati-based First Transit Inc. on Tuesday that bus service would be eliminated effective Dec. 31.
Cordes said he is in favor of using train station money to save transit routes if possible.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep transit rolling,” Cordes said. “These (riders) are not people with other options – that’s why we have to fight for them.”