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PVTA rate debate forestalls bigger financial problems

Date: 7/2/2012

July 2, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — While some look at the vote of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) as a victory, some PVTA Advisory Board members see it as forestalling a financial problem.

The announcement the Legislature was allocating unexpected funds days before the end of the fiscal year to the Regional Transit Authorities (RTA), including the PVTA, helped prevent a fare increase this year, according to PVTA Advisory Board member and Ludlow Select Board Chair Aaron Saunders.

Saunders explained to Reminder Publications that prior to the revelation of an increase in funding to the PVTA as well as a one-time allotment of monies, PVTA Administrator Mary MacInnes had proposed fare increases to cover an operating deficit.

The Advisory Board voted on June 27 in favor of a budget that did not include fare increases for 2013, as advocated by MacInnes.

Although an audience of about 40 people, most of whom were vocally against any fare increases, applauded at the vote, MacInnes warned that by not having fare increases that would take effect July 1, 2013 in place she would have to begin planning for service reductions as there would be a deficit for fiscal year 2014 (FY14).

The board members were divided over the necessity of increasing the fares for 2013 not knowing how the PVTA was going to be funded next year by the state.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno released a statement through Thomas Walsh, his representative on the board, that if the FY13 budget did not have a deficit operating budget, fare hikes at this time were not needed. At the meeting, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse made similar statements.

Stephen Hundley, representing Chicopee, was among the board members who saw a need to vote on the 2013 fare increases now. He added that a fare increase for 2013 could always be rescinded if it proved to be unnecessary.

David Moskin of Hadley said, "There is a cost in pretending that everything is fine."

MacInnes told the group that Massachusetts Department of Transportation Secretary Richard Davey has been charged by the Legislature to develop along-term funding solution to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) as well as the state's RTAs. Because the MBTA is under-going financial problems, all of the state's mass transit systems are being considered, she explained.

MacInnes advocated that approving rate increases for 2013 would show legislators the PVTA was being proactive about funding and could prevent service cuts and a deficit for FY14.

MacInnes said a fare increase for 2013 was necessary because the Legislature doesn't make a decision about funding levels for the RTAs until "the last minute."

Although one motion would have required the board to look at fare hikes in January 2013, MacInnes said that would not be enough time for the Legislature to act.

Morse pushed for additional public hearings about a fare hike, something, MacInnes said, could cost the PVTA money.

"The people in this room and Holyoke are worth a public meeting," Morse said.

Paul Burns, representing Palmer, noted the PVTA had already raised rates recently showing fiscal responsibility.

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