September 21, 2014

Elyria
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County may add funds to federal LCT money

ELYRIA — More money could be pumped into Lorain County Transit beyond the $293,000 in federal stimulus money the county already has been promised.

County Commissioner Betty Blair said she and her fellow commissioners will consider adding some county dollars to bulk up that federal money at their meeting today.

“We’ll see what we can come up with for a final mix,” Blair said.

But county Administrator Jim Cordes warned that even if the county kicks in money, service cuts at LCT still will be necessary.

“We still need drastic cuts, but we hope to keep the buses rolling,” he said.

The county informed Cincinnati-based First Transit Inc., which operates LCT’s buses, earlier this month it would end fixed-route runs at the end of the year. The county had planned to leave in place Transit’s Dial-A-Ride service and keep its bus fleet in case additional money could be found to restart the fixed-route service.

The commissioners decided, after a 0.5 percent sales tax increase failed to win the approval of voters in November, they could no longer afford to make their annual $500,000 contribution to LCT’s $5 million budget. Most of that money comes from state and federal grants.

Nicole Francis Reynolds, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, said her boss worked hard to help secure the current infusion of cash for LCT from federal stimulus money that was dedicated to transportation projects around the state but wasn’t used.

She also said Sutton is working on two bills, one currently on the House floor and another that is set to be considered next year, that could funnel additional federal dollars into transit systems around the country, including possibly to Lorain County Transit.

“Congresswoman Sutton has been working very hard to ensure that services to seniors, workers and those who rely on Lorain County Transit every day will not be cut,” Reynolds said.

Cliff Perkins of Sheffield Township said he routinely rides LCT buses to get to work at his two jobs, one in Sheffield Township and the other in Amherst. He said he’s encouraged by the news that fixed-route runs won’t expire at the end of the year but worries about what will happen when the one-time federal money runs out.

“I can’t get to work, I can’t get to the mall or up and down Cooper-Foster Park Road without a bus,” he said. “How else am I going to pay my bills?”

Without LCT, he said he and others who rely on the service may be forced to move to Cuyahoga County, something he doesn’t want to do.

Cordes said the county still needs to meet with First Transit to determine what services it can still afford to operate with the money that LCT ends up with. That might not happen until next week.
“It’s going to go right down to the wire,” Cordes said.

He also said that layoff notices sent to two part-time and two full-time LCT employees will remain in effect.

Blair said without those workers she doubts the county will be able to continue allowing Greyhound buses to use LCT’s Third Street offices in Elyria as a bus station. The county already has notified Greyhound that stops in Elyria should cease at year’s end.

“For Greyhound to be safe, there had to be somebody over there for the tickets and I’m not sure we have a body for that,” she said.

The commissioners have been holding hearings in recent weeks with other county officials to discuss possible cuts that they contend are necessary because of dwindling revenue that won’t be replaced by the failed sales tax increase.

A decision is expected today on budgets for the first part of 2010 and Commissioner Ted Kalo said many departments will receive less money.

Blair said unlike $6 million in cuts imposed for 2009 that ended up costing more than 75 county workers — including sheriff’s deputies — their jobs, the cuts for 2010 won’t be equally felt across all county departments. The commissioners are targeting this round of cuts, which means some departments will feel the pinch more than others, she said.

One cut already has been made, Cordes said. Three part-time workers who operate the county telephone switchboard will be laid off and will be replaced by an automated phone system. A full-time operator retired and wasn’t replaced, he said.

Meanwhile, Blair, Kalo and Cordes said the county is continuing to seek ways to fix the long-term problem of LCT’s  budget woes. The county has managed to come up with money from one-time sources twice in the past two years to prevent or reduce service cuts.

Blair said the county will ask the communities served by the agency to consider giving the county money to help fund LCT.

Cordes said something needs to happen to make LCT viable in the long-term or the threat of service cuts will return.

“We’ve got a continuing problem, and we need a continuing solution,” he said.

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