There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From bad to worse: RT just can't get a break

What's Sacramento Regional Transit to do? There's just no good news. That at least is the conclusion to be drawn from the agenda package for Monday's board of director's meeting.

General Manger Mike Wiley tries to paint a rosy tint on his Key Performance Report to the board.

"Despite the economic challenges imposed by declining tax revenues and state budget cuts to public transit funding, the District's financial statistic report closing out fiscal year 2009 is positive ($6.6M*)," Wiley says.

Yes, but...

Take away the largess of the Obama administration and Congress' efforts to stimulate the economy -- $8 million more than RT had counted on in its budget -- and that $6.6 million evaporates. (Read the full Key Performance Report)

As it is, the preliminary year-end report for 2009 has the district less than $700,000 in the black.

The district management managed to save nearly $2.2 million by trimming expenses from the 2009 budget and the federal government tossed in nearly $7.5 million more than the budget anticipated, but that only slowed the hemorrhaging.

Despite rate hikes in January, fare revenues were down $4.25 million below the budgeted target. And then there was the $4.1 million loss of local sales tax revenue.

And now we learn that matters are getting worse.

The 2010 budget adopted last month was balanced in part with the promise that service would be cut in January enough to save another $1.1 million.

"Since the FY 2010 Operating Budget was adopted on June 22, 2009, economic conditions have worsened," RoseMary Covington, the assistant general manager for planning and transit system development, explains in an issue paper prepared for Monday's meeting.

"RT has been notified that the Sacramento Transportation Authority will reduce its FY 2010 sales tax based, Measure A, projection by 3%," Covington reports. "This will reduce expected RT revenue from this source by $932,000. In addition, SACOG staff has advised there will be a further reduction in RT's Local Transportation Fund (LTF) allocation of approximately $1.5 million, also due to the decline in expected sales tax revenue."

The district had hoped that recently adopted federal legislation allowing transit agencies to redirect 10 percent of their stimulus money to operating expenses would help, but that won't be enough.

"Current estimates indicate that in addition to the $1 million in January service cuts already factored into the FY 2010 Adopted Operating Budget, an additional $1.4 million must be found in order to re-balance the budget," Covington reports.

Covington anticipates that staff can back fill some of that $2.4 million shortfall with cost reductions, but at least $1.4 million in service reductions will still be necessary.

"Since January is half-way point of the fiscal year, in order to realize $1.4 million in savings, it is necessary to make service reductions amounting to $2.8 million on an annual basis," Covington explains.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with RT's efforts to cope with the economic downturn and the outright theft from the state, I suggest reading "Attachment 2" from Covington's report. "Sacramento Regional Transit District Actions To Meet State Budget Revenue Shortfalls" itemizes the more than 30 steps taken since 2008.

The question of which combination of route elimination, reduction and realignment will balance the budget will be the subject of discussion at Monday's meeting. Here's a link to the staff's preferred option.

"Based upon the public comments, further direction from the Board, and any changes to RT's funding situation, staff will return to the Board for final approval on August 24, 2009," Covington said.


Anonymous said...

Just as I was getting off the #82 late this morning in front of Hubacher(heading to the most convenient Borders to where I live),I asked the operator 'Is it gonna get to the point that transit becomes extinct in Sactown?!' A passenger then expressed her disgust at the proposals to point that she was giving thought to moving to the Bay Area despite higher costs of living.I certainly don't blame her,as transit funding is far better there(subsidized by bridge tolls and a greater percentage of sales tax revenue);and while some fare increases have happened,service cuts have been rather low(outside of whatever VTA is proposing).Not to mention that even the Bay Area has its share of affordable apartments...

Mattie said...

I just heard that RT "found" three million dollars so the most drastic cuts are off the table. Waiting patiently for the Transitarian's detailed explanation...