CLEARFIELD – At Tuesday’s workshop meeting, the Clearfield County Commissioners expressed their disapproval and concerns with the operations of the Area Transportation Authority (ATA).
The ATA is a regional, rural transportation authority for the counties of Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Jefferson, McKean and Potter.
Clearfield County contracts with the ATA to provide mass transit throughout the county, except for DuBois City, parts of Sandy Township and Falls Creek Borough. It contracts with DuFast Transit to supply transportation to the previously mentioned areas.
According to Commissioner Chairperson Joan Robinson-McMillen, the county appoints three board members to the ATA, and they are Anthony Viglone and Kristin Vida, both of DuBois, and Ernie Carns of Clearfield. She said it paid an appropriation to the ATA of $113,019 for the current-year.
Robinson-McMillen pointed out that the county’s appropriation represents 47.6 percent of the ATA’s local match allocation. She said it pays nearly 50 percent of the local match when six counties belong to the ATA.
Robinson-McMillen said the county also pays $14,364 to DuFast Transit to which DuBois City and Sandy Township give about the same amount. She said Falls Creek contributes a lesser amount but is a much smaller municipality. Robinson-McMillen said there is “equal representation” with DuFast Transit.
Over the years, she said the current board of commissioners has experienced “some real difficulties and concerns” with the ATA. When meeting for purposes of budget discussion, she said the ATA either refuses to supply the commissioners with information, or provides them with information that isn’t completely transparent.
Robinson-McMillen said they have all pledged to continue supplying citizens of Clearfield County with mass transit. However, she said it’s the county’s fiduciary responsibility to utilize the best service that is the most cost effective.
She said the state’s Department of Transportation, which oversees the ATA, also has concerns about the ATA and its budget. In fact, she said the ATA’s current-year budget wasn’t approved until recently when most are now looking into the upcoming-year budget.
According to Robinson-McMillen, the county received notice that the ATA would be voting on its 2014 budget. About one month ago, she had Chief Clerk Lisa McFadden request a copy of the ATA budget proposal for review before the annual meeting. Robinson-McMillen said the budget wasn’t ready and ATA blamed PennDOT for “holding it up.”
She said a day before the ATA budget would be voted upon, she requested a copy. This time she was told they didn’t have the budget even though the ATA board would be voting on it the next day. She eventually received a one-and-a-half page budget summary the afternoon before the annual meeting, which Commissioner John A. Sobel likened more to a listing of “assets and liabilities.”
Robinson-McMillen and Sobel went to the ATA’s office in Johnsonburg to attend the annual meeting. At the meeting, she said Vida went through the board packet after asking numerous times for them to be sent out in advance. Robinson-McMillen said Vida was advised that “wasn’t how it was done” and board members were expected to show up and vote upon items that they hadn’t seen.
“They (ATA) admitted to refusing to send out information to the board members ahead of time. Keep in mind, this isn’t an advisory board; this is a governing board,” said Robinson-McMillen.
At the meeting, she said the ATA announced the 2014 budget had already been submitted to PennDOT. She said the ATA called for a vote on its budget the day after it had been submitted. She said Vida didn’t so much as have a budget summary for her review and requested to see the budget, which the ATA never provided to her.
Sobel said the ATA also denied Vida the opportunity to ask and get answers for a series of questions she had concerning the budget. Robinson-McMillen said board members voted to accept the budget as presented by the committee, except for Vida, as she wasn’t afforded the opportunity to review it.
Robinson-McMillen said they plan to continue investigating the possibility of moving their Act 44 and transportation funds to DuFast Transit. She said DuFast Transit has been positively reviewed by PennDOT for its services to the communities of DuBois City, Sandy Township and Falls Creek.
Sobel said the ATA board approved a budget resolution for 2013-14 that totaled $9,638,878 without having an actual, physical document and all of the components in front of them. When he and Robinson-McMillen confronted the ATA about this, Sobel said they received two responses.
Sobel said the ATA blamed the state, saying everything was “fine,” and “we know what we’re doing.” He also confirmed that Vida had been denied the opportunity to review the budget and to ask her questions. Sobel said when the county is paying an entity $113,000, it expects accountability and transparency.
Sobel supported the county in continuing to look for other ways to provide better mass transit to the citizens of Clearfield County. In its latest performance review, he said PennDOT had indicated DuFast Transit demonstrated sound fiscal management due to their regular accumulation of year-end cash reserves, having no debt and no unfunded liability. Sobel said that tells him they run efficiently as an operation.
“Anytime the individuals or organizations think that they have limited responsibilities to those that fund them, it’s time to start looking elsewhere,” he said. Commissioner Mark B. McCracken agreed, noting a lot of state and federal money was involved and Clearfield County was the biggest contributor of the member counties.
“The detailed budget should be released to the board members. It should be released to the member counties,” said McCracken. “I’m talking a detailed budget. I’m talking a budget that will show everything that’s being spent, salaries – everything. These board members aren’t being afforded this detail and being asked to vote on a budget based on a very brief summary.”
McCracken said they’re searching for the alternatives out there with the bottom line being transparency and making sure they’re getting the best use of their dollars.
Robinson-McMillen said she showed the county budget to the ATA as an example and requested a similar line-by-line budget, including salary line items, from the ATA last week. At that point, she was told it was in separate budgets that could be provided to her. She followed up Monday in an e-mail with a read receipt to the ATA’s fiscal officer. It was received by 1 p.m. Monday and she hadn’t received any response from the ATA as of Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting.
“That’s really not best service,” said Robinson-McMillen.
McCracken said the county also intends to investigate its Medical Assistance Transportation program. The MAT program is operated by the Central Pennsylvania Community Action (CPCA) and sub-contracted to the ATA.
Sobel said he was also concerned that the ATA’s agenda didn’t permit for public comment on items to be voted upon. He felt it was reflective of an organization that’s used to not being held accountable.
Robinson-McMillen said the commissioners would continue to thoroughly investigate their concerns and would not act quickly on this matter. She said they do not want the citizens of Clearfield County to experience any break in services, just a more efficient and transparent provider.
Solicitor Kim Kesner said he would work with McFadden and the Controller’s Office to compile a transactional history between the county and the ATA. He would make informational requests from the ATA and particularly the minutes of the annual meeting to review what had been approved. Kesner said if met with resistance from the ATA, he would seek authorization from the county to file “Right to Know” requests.