KINGSTON — A local marketing firm has recommended that the Luzerne County Transportation Authority abandon a $75,000 marketing campaign because of negative publicity surrounding the “ghost rider” scandal.
CDS Creative, based in Edwardsville, had a contract with the LCTA to market the agency’s bus and shared ride van service using funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reserved for facilitating the consolidation of the authority with the Luzerne County Transportation Department and Hazleton Public Transit.
LCTA Executive Director Stanley Strelish said a CDS employee recently met with LCTA staff designated to work with the agency on the marketing campaign and made the recommendation.
“I have to commend the owners of CDS because they gave up a $75,000 contract because they don’t think it would be worth it to do it at this point because of all the negative publicity that LCTA has received,” Strelish said. “I think the entire staff felt pretty much the same way, that anything positive that’s going to be brought about for LCTA, there will be a negative in the same paragraph.”
Strelish said the conviction of the CDS owners was refreshing. “A lot of business people are ruthless and, no matter what, they’ll just take the money,” he said.
He recommended the board pay CDS $1,537.50 for work already done on the campaign, and the board voted to do so.
“Hopefully, in the next year or so, when we get through these terrible times and come out with an entire change to the marketing (plan),” Strelish said.
The authority’s reputation began taking hits in July 2012 when Luzerne County Councilman Edward Brominski and LCTA board member Patrick Conway went public with accusations that bus drivers were instructed to pad ridership reports on senior citizens, who ride for free, to boost state funding for the authority.
Strelish has consistently denied instructing drivers to do so.
PennDOT initiated an investigation and earlier this year concluded the LCTA over-reported senior riders by 315,760 to 615,085 over several years. That led to the authority receiving anywhere from $360,597 to $468,124 more than it should have in funding each year.
Citing those inflated numbers, the state is withholding nearly $2.7 million in operating funds next fiscal year.
A federal grand jury investigation targeting the authority also has been launched.
In his report on Tuesday, authority Solicitor Joseph Blazosek said he has been negotiating with PennDOT officials to find an alternative to the multimillion-dollar funding cut, and negotiations continue. He said the authority continues to cooperate with the federal investigation.
In other business:
• Strelish said the authority stands to lose about $430,000 in annual revenue if United Rehabilitation Services closes facilities in Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton and Tunkhannock because the shared-ride program had been making about 100 trips per day transporting the agencies’ clients.
He said URS clients from Luzerne and Wyoming counties likely will be transported to facilities in Montrose, Scranton, Bloomsburg and Pottsville, and providing service there would not be cost effective.
• Fiscal Manager John Alu was appointed to continue in his current position and take on the additional role of grants coordinator at a total salary of $50,890.71. The previous coordinator, Theresa Chapman, recently retired.