We have been asked several questions by Lake County citizens about the association between Lake County’s Laketran, and the Geauga County Transit.
Also, a question about Ohio’s Checkbook program was raised.
To get the complete and accurate answers, we contacted
Laketran’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Ben Capelle.
Brian Massie, A Watchman on the Wall
Q1. Laketran had previously stated that they would be part of the Ohio Checkbook program, thereby ensuring transparency with the citizens of Lake County. However, this, to date, has not happened. Is this correct? If this is the case, why was it decided not to be transparent with the citizens.
Ben Capelle’s response:
We are working on Ohio Check book, and we are still committed to using it. There are a few reasons we are not there yet: My Director of Finance’s father passed away recently and she was out of the office for an extend period of time. She is back, but working on catching up. She is in the middle of a Ohio Department of Disabilities Audit, once that is complete we plan to work on Ohio Check book. We are also doing our best to make the information easy to read.
We have been required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to report to the National Transit Database (NTD) for decades. This requires our finances to be on a accrual basis, most government in Ohio is a cash basis, this means our books don’t line up perfectly with how the Open Check book displays them. We have contacted them to see how best to deal with it and we are working through the process. The only other transit system using Open Check book right now is the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) in Cincinnati and their data is very difficult to use, we are trying to avoid that situation and provide info people can actually use.
Q2. Geauga transit has been closed since Laketran has decided to provide the public transportation needs of Geauga residents. Is this correct? If this is the case, was there a formal merger agreement between Geauga transit and Laketran? Will Laketran be responsible for any past or future financial obligations of Geauga transit? If this “merger” proves to be a financial burden for Laketran, can the “merger” be undone?
Ben Capelle’s Response:
I don’t think this is an accurate statement, Geauga Transit is not currently closed and hasn’t been in the recent past, they are still providing service out of their facility in Merritt Road in Geauga County. Laketran assumed operations on July 1st under contract with the Geauga County Commissioners. We did not formally merge, we chose to use a contract, that way either party has an “out” clause. The agreement is 5 years long, so we will re-evaluate if it is still desirable for both agencies at the end of 5 years. Laketran is managing Geauga Transit we are not funding them in any way. Their funding comes from the State and local contracts.
We have established a separate bank account and budget to make it easy to review/audit and to keep the funds segregated. No Lake County money will be spent on Geauga Transit. This we a cornerstone of the agreement, should Geauga funding not be sufficient for their service they would have to reduce service. We do expect to be able to increase funding to both Laketran and Geauga Transit as a result of this agreement, traditionally the more you coordinate the more funding you can secure. We were deliberate when we structured the agreement as a contract, it could be undone at any time with the proper notice.
Q3. Is it true that the Laketran Board is considering adding a Geauga resident to the Laketran board?
Ben Capelle’s response:
One of our Board members asked a question about that last meeting. We structured the agreement in a way that we would not need to change the Board of Laketran. Geauga’s contract protects them and their interests. We discussed this with the Geauga County Commissioners when we crafted the agreement and I told them we did not plan to change the Board. Additionally, our Board does not have the authority to change our Board’s makeup, this power rests solely with the Lake County Commissioners. This question could be discussed more, but based on how we structured the agreement I would recommend against adding a member to our Board at this time.
Q4. At the last Board Meeting, Brian Falkowski mentioned to Brian Massie that Laketran’s lawyer, Brandon Dynes, had contacted the State regarding the question I had about Laketran rescinding the 1/4% sales tax, but did not have an answer. Did I understand that correctly?
Ben Capelle’s response:
You are correct, he is still waiting on an answer.
Thanks to Mr. Capelle for his timely and complete response to our questions. Transparency is a key to good governance.
Hopefully, we have answered the questions raised by the Lake County taxpayers.
Updated July 11, 2023 2:30 pm
Thanks to our friends at Auburntownship.org for the following article covering Geauga Transit and Laketran.