Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Harper questions funding for bus authority takeover in Valpo

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Porter County Commissioner President Robert Harper, D-Center, is calling on the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority and the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority to explain to the public how they plan to find funding in the possible takeover of bus operations in the City of Valparaiso as well as other bus services throughout Northwest Indiana.

Harper spoke out at Tuesday night’s county commissioners meeting addressing news articles he has seen about the “progress that may lead” to a takeover of Valpo’s Chicago Dash and V-Line by the RBA.

He said the City of Valparaiso has filed paperwork with the Northern Indiana Regional Planning Commission that indicates the expenses for operating the Chicago Dash and the V-Line are going to be close to $2.5 million per year.

He expressed concern that agencies will call upon Porter County taxpayers to pick up the tab to cover the lingering expenses if the bus lines run in the red.

In his statement, Harper said the RBA has recently taken over operations in Hammond and are in serious discussions on taking over the bus lines in East Chicago and Gary. He said all the bus lines fall seriously short of breaking even with funding and operation costs and have chosen to subsidize with the cities in which they operate.

“Although many articles are written about the Regional Bus Authority taking over these lines, there is nothing written about how they are going to finance the operation of these lines in the future. The Regional Bus Authority has no stream of income,” Harper said in his statement.

According to documents given to the Chesterton Tribune by Harper, Hammond’s Transit Authority had collected $645,487 in local assistance in 2007, East Chicago’s Transit Authority collected nearly $742,580, and Gary’s Transit Authority garnered $2,679,570 in local assistance.

Total expenses in 2007 from the cities showed Hammond with $2,177,554, East Chicago with $1,354,520, and Gary with $7,772,496.

Harper said the figures filed by Valpo show the operating expenses for 2013 are projected to be $1,430,000 in non federal funds.

Harper said the RBA has been “encouraged” by the RDA to take over the bus lines, but the RDA has not committed to keep those bus lines running in the future.

He also said he expects the agencies to be looking at Porter County for funding the buses despite the fact the county defeated a referendum last year by a wide margin whether or not to pay another tax for bus lines.

He said the RDA should be giving answers immediately.

“Frankly, I feel that the failure to discuss how these busses are going to be financed in the future is nothing more than a huge fraud and con game perpetrated against the citizens of Porter County and, in fact, all Northwest Indiana,” the statement said.

RDA Executive Director Bill Hanna told the Chesterton Tribune this morning the reason his agency is in support of consolidation is to gain efficiencies and enhance access to locations for riders.

Hanna said the Valpo bus systems are doing well and providing a good service with the ridership numbers up and costs are actually down due to a new contract and does not anticipate increasing taxpayers’ burdens.

He said he hopes collaboration with the cities and the county can take place.

“We encourage anyone to talk to try to gain efficiency, lower costs and improve access,” said Hanna.

The county was ordered by a Jasper County Circuit judge to continue paying $3.5 million in dues to the RDA despite the county council’s effort to withdraw from the agency. The money for the dues comes out of a County Economic Development Income Tax fund.

Harper said in his statement the RDA is not comprised of elected officials and sees it as a problem that they are not subject to accountability of the voters.

 

Posted 9/8/2010

 

 

 

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