On Thursday, the Jefferson County Commission will meet in a special session to consider local funding of the MARC train. Governor Justice has indicated that he would be willing to consider funding MARC service through June 2020 if county and municipal governments from Jefferson and Berkeley counties were to contribute approximately $300,000 towards funding. While the MARC service is an important resource for the Eastern Panhandle, this last-ditch effort concocted by a few local members of the House of Delegates presents some issues that our local leaders should consider before voting in favor of funding.
First, it is important to keep in mind that this is not a long term funding solution. It is a stop-gap measure that will fund service through fiscal year 2020. Without a long-term funding solution that can pass the legislature and will be supported by the governor, we will be right back in this same situation next year. The added danger in short term funding is that next year Maryland must renegotiate track rental fees with CSX and it is likely that the cost to provide MARC service will increase dramatically. While we are looking at $3.4 Million this year, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that it could cost upwards of $4 Million next year for the same level of service. Our leaders must act now to secure a long term service agreement that is favorable to West Virginia before anyone considers local funding.
Secondly, the proposed funding plan involves contributions from Jefferson County and its municipal governments to the tune of approximately $103,819, which includes a contribution of $82,000 from the county with the rest coming from municipalities.
Berkeley County and Martinsburg are responsible for the remainder of the $300,000 in funding. Absent from this conversation is any talk of increasing MARC ridership’s share of the funding, which only seems fair if taxpayers are being asked to increase their contribution.
At current average ridership levels, a $1.50 per ticket increase in the WV Rider Surcharge could generate over $200,000 in additional funding, while alleviating some of the need for additional funding at the local level.
Without an increased contribution from ridership it’s unfair to ask West Virginia taxpayers to contribute more. Under the currently proposed plan, city residents will be contributing to MARC funding three times, once each at the state, county, and municipal level.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, the conversations we are having now, less than a month before MARC service is scheduled to be reduced, should have happened earlier this year during the regular legislative session. The current funding solution is rushed, with little thought given to the impact on long term funding. Local legislators have offered any number of excuses for not discussing MARC funding during the 2019 legislative session but the truth is, many of them were asleep at the wheel, preferring to offer up bills to ban plastic bags instead of concentrating on problems that directly impact their constituents. In 2018 Delegates Moore and Upson flew to the Eastern Panhandle with the Secretary of Transportation during the legislative session to hold emergency meetings on MARC funding. That is leadership, a rushed plan at the last minute that asks for unfair contributions from taxpayers is not.
Make no mistake, the MARC train is a valuable resource for the Eastern Panhandle that should be funded, but not like this. I urge county and municipal leaders to reject the current funding plan and send a message to Governor Justice and local delegates that they will not do their work for them. Tell them that this year the MARC needs to be funded entirely at the state level without a local contribution and that they need to return to Charleston in 2020 and work on a funding plan that is fair to everyone and that will ensure MARC service will continue, uninterrupted, for years to come.
Mark Everhart is a town councilman from Shepherdstown and a candidate for WV House of Delegates in the 67th District.