Packed public hearing asks Centro not to cut service amid budget gap
Syracuse residents packed Syracuse’s city hall last night to voice their opposition to proposed service reductions on the public bus system. Councilors summoned the head of the Centro bus service to explain the transit agency’s gaping fiscal accounts.
The council chamber at city hall was packed on a freezing and snowy evening. A testament, many said, to the importance of Centro bus service to city residents.
The bus service that serves five central New York counties is facing a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, which it blames on rising operating costs and flat-lined state funding. Centro says it needs to eliminate late night and Sunday services in order to balance its books. And a fare increase wouldn’t level things out.
Many at the public forum have physical disabilities, including Ann Woodland. "If they cut Sunday service, we will never get to church again. I want you to think about that," she said.
Ruth Heller is the regional vice president of the health care workers union. She says bus cutbacks would affect hospital workers who work late and overnight shifts.
"If busses stop running on Sundays, patient care will be affected for all shifts, days, evenings and nights," she said. "Hospitals and nursing homes do not stop providing care at 9:30 at night, nor are they closed on Sundays."
Director of Centro, Frank Kobliski, says the deep cuts have been a long time coming.
"It’s not just us and it’s not just of late, it’s not just this year. It’s a situation that has been brewing and simmering for many years," he told councilors and those in attendance.
Centro and its operator, the Central New York Regional Transit Authority, need to come up $4.5 million before its budget is due in March. Otherwise it needs to trim that much.
He dismissed the idea of borrowing money and accruing debt. "It would be improper to kick the can not only down the road but over a cliff," he said.
"This is transit in the new millennium, unfortunately," he said.
Some of public transportation's funding comes from a percentage of the mortgage recording tax municipalities collect. Councilor Jean Kessner pointed out to much approval that the tax is one that's often waved by economic development agencies for construction projects.
Kobliski urged those in attendance to advocate to state lawmakers on the transit authority’s behalf to increase funding. If no funding is found, bus service would be reduced in mid-May.
Centro will host its own public forum on March 11 at the OnCenter downtown.