Agency calls for AG to investigate RBA funds

2014-06-17T14:30:00Z 2014-06-18T06:47:06Z Agency calls for AG to investigate RBA fundsKeith Benman, (219) 933-3326

The disability-rights agency Everybody Counts has asked Indiana Attorney Greg Zoeller to look into why the bulk of funds earned by a defunct bus service in Hammond were sent to other communities. 

In a letter sent Monday, the agency tells the attorney general's office its own efforts to investigate have been blocked.

"We still don't have any clear answers, and if someone doesn't take a closer look, it's just going to happen again," said Everybody Counts Executive Director Teresa Torres.

The controversy dates back to the collapse of the Northwest Indiana Regional Bus Authority in June 2012, which left thousands of bus and para-transit riders stranded with no service in Hammond.

Because of its soaring ridership in Hammond, the RBA had "earned" more than $1 million from the state's Public Mass Transportation Fund. It was to be paid out over the next three years.

But the bulk of the funds distributed in 2013 — $506,207 in all — went to on-demand bus providers in Porter County and South Lake County. The Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission appropriated the money to the demand-response providers as part of its 2013 budget process.

NIRPC officials have said they were faced with an unusual situation when the RBA went out of business. They contend their agency followed the Indiana Department of Transportation's direction on how to distribute the funds.

"It's not something we just decided to do willy-nilly," NIRPC Executive Director Ty Warner said Tuesday.

After the 2013 distribution of PMTF funds, Gary Public Transportation Corp. and East Chicago Transit argued they could better use the money to serve people left stranded by the RBA. For 2014 and 2015, those agencies are receiving the funds.

In addition to the attorney general's office, Everybody Counts sent a copy of the letter to the State Board of Accounts, which performs audits of all governmental units within the state, including NIRPC.

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