ERIE, Pa. — At noon Monday, it appeared that months of failed negotiations between the city and the county over the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority were coming to an end.
But a letter sent from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to County Council chairman Andre Horton could put the authority in the hands of the state.
According to a document signed by both Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott and County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, both have agreed to a new 10-year charter for the EMTA.
However, both city and county councils must approve the new charter.
Horton said a majority of County Council is not in agreement for a 10-year charter.
County Council sent its own agreement to PennDOT, agreeing to a five-year charter.
“Sometimes no deal is more preferable than a bad deal,” Horton said. “And we think that with the city being in crisis whether in the school district or poverty or crime issues, we don’t think the leadership has been such that we want to enter into a 10-year agreement.”
The new agreement came just before the noon deadline imposed by PennDOT. PennDOT threatened to take over the authority if no agreement was in place.
However, a state takeover is still possible if County Council does not approve the new charter by Oct. 25.
According to a letter sent to Horton from Leslie Richards, the secretary of transportation, if County Council does not agree to the terms signed off by Sinnott and Dahlkemper, PennDOT will “implement a final takeover of service.”
Richards said in the letter that she is “very concerned to learn that the County Council may not be inclined to approve this comprise charter agreement. If that is true, it would be very unfortunate for the citizens of Erie County.”
The letter said, “Due to the uncertainty of the County Council’s position, PennDOT will begin preliminary measures to take over EMTA service.”
The city is scheduled to meet Wednesday. County Council will meet Oct. 25.
City Council has indicated that it will vote to approve the agreement and renew the authority.
The new proposal will give the city five EMTA board members with the county getting four.
According to the document, “The parties agreed that the EMTA’s combined local match from the city and the county will be divided 55 percent for the city and 45 percent for the county.”
The city’s contribution to the authority will increase to about $350,000. The county will give around $288,000.
Sinnott said despite the city paying more for the EMTA, that there will not be a tax increase.
The city and the county will jointly request the EMTA to revise its by-laws so that no less that one city and one county board appointee will serve as officers on the EMTA board at all times.
An advisory committee will also be created, which will be made up of riders.
“From our perspective it is over,” Sinnott said. “Of all the things that we gave here, I think if they are not willing to move five years off the length of the term, then at that point they’re bargaining in bad faith and there’s nothing more we can do at that point.”
County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper
Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott and City Councilman Bob Merski