TAWC board suspicious of regionalization

The commissioners of the five counties currently tied together for a transportation regionalization study may have approved moving to phase two of the process, but the Transit Authority of Warren County certainly does not like the potential result.

TAWC Director John Aldrich said he was “not sure if consultants considered all the staffing needs we have in place.”

He said the consultants did not consider building maintenance in their cost-savings projection during the first phase of the study and also did not appropriately staff the Medical Assistance program.

“The Department of Public Welfare will tell you that is a full-time position if not a little bit more, and I did not see where they factored that into the equation,” said Aldrich.

Board member Grace Wright said, “I think it is a case of pendulum swinging.” She explained, working in a previous position, that a state commission looked at finding cost savings and increasing local control several years ago. “Now, we are thinking we can consolidate it (and) save all this money. Now I’m seeing the pendulum swing back. Their hearts are in the right place, but (the savings) I just don’t see.”

She also cautioned that the larger the employee pool would get in a regional system, “the closer you get to being unionized. If you have a large system and a lot of people, people can get disgruntled. All you need is a few disgruntled employees and you have a union.”

Unionization could chip away at any perceived cost savings.

“(I) think the train has already left the building and this is going to happen,” said Wright.

Aldrich said phase one of the study was to determine whether there would be a cost savings to regionalize and that phase two “is simply to show how it will look.”

“There needs to be a reason why you want to regionalize,” he said. “(There) needs to be some connectivity.”

There was consensus on the board that Warren County has connections to Chautauqua County, N.Y., and Erie County from shopping and medical perspectives, but not with the other four counties Venango, Clarion, Forest and Crawford that are part of the regionalization study.

Aldrich said the “carrot they (the state) are dangling” is no local match requirement for a five-year period should regionalization occur.

Currently, TAWC must raise a certain percentage in local matching funds to leverage state dollars for the fixed route bus program.

Chairman Tom Hessley said such a proposal causes a problem as, at the end of the five-year window, the transit entity would have to “re-establish all those relationships with the municipalities” who contribute funding currently.

Aldrich speculated that, similar to phase one, phase two will last four to five months, which would slate its completion for May or June.

According to a note on the agenda prepared for the meeting, “The reasoning to continue to the second phase was that it would not be any expense to the (Warren County) Commissioners and secondly it did not obligate them to form a regional transit system. The decision regarding regionalization will be made after the Phase II study is complete.”