Bellefonte puts brakes on CATA request

Borough Council balked at a proposed bump in Centre Area Transportation Authority costs at its meeting Monday.

CATA General Manager Louwana Oliva detailed at council’s May 4 meeting that it budgeted the borough for $21,505 for services from 2015-16.

Council voted 8-0 Monday to pay about $17,900, which it budgeted for 2015, about $3,600 short of what CATA had placed in its budget for the borough. Council will also request that CATA consult with the borough before making changes to bus routes.

Borough Manager Ralph Stewart said council would discuss its 2016 budget for CATA later this year.

“Past practice when (CATA’s former general manager) Hugh Mose came in, he would present his numbers and ask if we wanted to add or cut a route,” Stewart said. “Then he’d tell us the increase, and we’d feel comfortable and approve it.”

The jump in proposed costs was due to CATA’s capital expense increases and because CATA added a trip and a half to its XB and XG routes last year. The added trips prompted CATA to propose that Bellefonte’s 2015-16 local match share for operating costs increase from $14,989 to $17,407, a 16.13 percent boost.

Borough Council was caught off guard by the increase, which Stewart said is because they were never consulted about the added trips.

Oliva said at the May 4 council meeting that CATA reduced trips in the area two years ago, which left a three-hour gap in between trips. That move decreased the borough’s shared operating cost from $16,631 in 2013-14 to $14,989 in 2014-15.

The decrease in trips, however, increased demand for more, which is why CATA added back the trip and a half last year. Ridership on the routes increased 13.4 percent in the last fiscal year and is expected to increase 4.6 percent this fiscal year.

Council also received an email from Verizon store owner Eric Bruckner, who said his Bellefonte store is set to reopen in early July. The front of the store caught fire in January and sustained damage.

Bruckner said in the email, however, that he was concerned about two parking spaces reserved for use by the FaithCentre food bank.

“I’m quite surprised none of the other business owners have been in touch with you yet regarding this,” he said in the letter. “As I’m sure you are aware parking is very hard to come by in Bellefonte, and I was surprised that an office that does not rely on purchases from its customers was able to reserve two very valuable parking spots, taking them away from business that do rely on purchases from its customers.”

Bruckner asked that the borough phase out the ability of anyone to reserve parking for their customers only. If not, he said he would request reserved parking spaces for his store.

“That would be our second preference though,” he said. “We would much rather have anyone park wherever they can find parking.”

Stewart could not recall exactly when the spaces are reserved for the food bank, but said it was only for a few hours out of the week.

Council, without a vote, agreed to deny Bruckner’s request.

Council also voted 8-0 to seek a $2.5 million loan, which Stewart said is for cash flow until the state reimburses the borough for the $6 million waterfront project. He expects the borough will receive about $3 million from the state by June 2016 as a 50/50 match for the project.