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River Valley Transit to end bus service to Clinton County

In reviewing River Valley Transit’s budget for next year, City Council learned on Monday night that bus service to Clinton County will end at Dec. 31.

The buses ran from the city to Lock Haven and Mill Hall but only through a technical assistance grant of $878,862 from the state Department of Transportation, said Adam Winder, River Valley Transit general manager.

Clinton County was required to match the grant with a 15 percent local share, or $131,829, he said.

It is believed the bus runs had an average of eight passengers daily, and a cost of $150 per bus, Winder said.

He said he believed the change might be due to COVID-19.

“PennDOT has decided that service has to stop on Dec. 31, and may be re-evaluated if the virus slows or ends,” Winder said.

“Clinton County commissioners were made aware of the end of the service by PennDOT,” Winder said.

Council members asked the River Valley Transit executives what that meant for the city users.

“No more runs to Lock Haven and the popular shopping district at Mill Hall,” Winder said. “Our biggest ticket item was to Super Walmart in Mill Hall,” Winder said. “Jumping on three buses from Williamsport to get there is not feasible at this time.”

The end of that service prompted Councilwoman Bonnie Katz to ask what other routes would be affected.

“None,” Winder said.

Katz said she understood the eight passengers would not pay for the gas and operational costs.

The work session included a look at River Valley Transit’s state-approved $8.8 million budget.

Each year, the utility fund budget of River Valley Transit is approved in May by the state Department of Transportation, but the city manages it and it falls under council review, Winder said.

The budget is submitted to PennDOT in May, which then approves funding,” further explained Nicole Farr, River Valley Transit chief financial officer. The fiscal year is from July 1 through June 30, she said.

Next year the transit system anticipates 47 drivers and six operations supervisors.

Administrative staff has been pared to include: Winder, Chris Cooley, assistant general manager; Farr; Todd Wright, planning and development director; Chris Clark, fleet manager; Kate Vornhold, human resource manager; Skip Cochran, marketing director; Josh Warfel, information technology director; Kendra Brown, assistant finance officer and six support staff.

The staff includes four on maintenance, 11 mechanics, two Trade and Transit Centre II, workers and five staffing agency personnel for a total complement of 97 workers, Winder said.

“We may have one or two fewer drivers,” Winder said.

Salaries account for slightly more than $2 million ($2,038,693) and fringe benefits of $2.3 million, he said.

Fuel costs are estimated to be $406,920,- with more buses running on compressed natural gas than diesel fuel.

The natural gas use cuts the fuel expense by half, the budget comparison showed.

Most of the funding for the budget is from the Federal Transit Administration, PennDOT and about 19 or 20 local share partners, Winder said.

Council members asked about any COVID-19 pandemic relief.

River Valley Transit has $7.2 million available in Coronavirus-related (CARES Act) pandemic funds, which is money it can draw down from over the next three years, Farr said.

River Valley Transit put $1.1. million of that into the budget listing it as pandemic relief, Farr said. River Valley Transit also has $2.5 million in appropriations available — that it has another three years to apply for, she said.

“The Federal Transit Administration wanted us to use the CARES money before applying for appropriation money,” Farr said.

State funding comes in on a monthly basis and some of that may be deferred into the end of the fiscal year, Farr said.

“We are not foolishly spending money,” Winder said.

The council reviewed River Valley Transit income from leases, rentals and fees — or revenue from building rentals and fees.

Overall, River Valley Transit receives $1.7 million annually from rental and fees, according to Farr. It has leased space at Trade and Transit Centre I and II and receives money from the Third Street parking garage, Farr said. The leased space and garage on Third Street generate $235,000 annually, she said.

Another $150,000 is from proceeds of Church Street parking deck, she said.

Other sources of income from non-federal money include management fees charged to Endless Mountains Regional Authority and trips for service to that authority.

River Valley Transit sees income from its compressed natural gas fueling station at 1500 W. Third Street.

“That seems to be holding its own,” Farr said.

The discussion also touched on Mayor Derek Slaughter indicated his interest in exploring the creation of an operational authority, which would “disentangle” the city from salaries, pensions and health care-related issues.

The authority might consist of a board of directors, appointed by the mayor with advisement by council.

“We have to get our ducks in a row,” Slaughter said of the idea. He promised to keep council aware of any movement toward the creation of an authority.

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