Benwood Not Getting on Board

WHEELING – Ohio Valley Regional Transportation Authority buses may stop in Benwood less frequently as a result of the city’s decision to put a levy on the ballot calling for only a 5-percent increase in support for the transit service, OVRTA board members warned Wednesday.

Citing increased operating costs and decreased federal funding adding up to a projected deficit by 2017, OVRTA is asking each community it serves to increase support for the bus service by 15 percent beginning in mid-2015, when the current levy expires. However, Benwood City Council’s decision to put a lesser increase before its voters drew concerns about fairness from board members representing other communities.

Meanwhile, the board voted to raise salaries by 2 percent for four OVRTA management positions during its meeting Wednesday.

Benwood Mayor Ed Kuca, who represents his community on the OVRTA board, said City Council members decided the 15-percent increase is too severe. He pointed out thousands of Marshall County residents have received notices that their property assessments are going up by 10 percent this year.

“We’ve got to watch out for our residents. Many of them … are on a fixed income,” Kuca said. “They just can’t take it.”

OVRTA Executive Director Tom Hvizdos said communities that do increase their levies by the 15 percent requested may feel they’re not being treated equally. Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron, OVRTA board president, hinted that could result in changes to bus service down the road for Benwood.

“We’re all in this together and we need to go forward together. … Ultimately, this board will decide the level of service based on the funding we get,” Herron said.

Although ridership systemwide is up about 5 percent, Kuca and Bethlehem Mayor Garrett “Rhett” Daniel said there are often plenty of empty seats on the buses that run through their communities. They suggested the authority could save money by purchasing smaller vehicles to replace older buses as they’re taken out of service.

“On certain routes, we probably can go down to a slightly smaller size. … Do we fill buses to standing room only? Very seldom,” Hvizdos said, though he noted buses that may appear empty when they stop in Bethlehem or Benwood often fill up as they return to Wheeling.

Hvizdos added health insurance costs for employees could soon increase by as much as 40 percent.

“We try to keep an eye on our expenses and our revenues here, too,” he said.

Following a 12-minute closed-door session, board members approved 2-percent pay raises for four management positions, with Herron, Kuca, Daniel, McMechen Mayor Mike Gracik, Ohio County Commissioner Tim McCormick and Wheeling resident Rick Courts voting in favor. Wheeling Councilwoman Gloria Delbrugge, Marshall County Commissioner Don Mason, Larry “Babe” Schmitt and John Aderholt were absent.

Hvizdos’s salary as executive director will increase from $69,064 to $70,445; the finance director’s from $56,378 to $57,605; the maintenance director’s from $54,535 to $55,625; and the office manager’s from $40,234 to $41,038.

Board members also approved spending $5,000 in non-levy funding for advertising to urge voters to support the levies in their respective communities.