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Published: Monday, 2/26/2007

TARTA anticipates a deficit of $2.9 million

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's board of trustees will consider a $28.3 million budget proposal Thursday that requires nearly $2.9 million in deficit spending, but agency officials say fund reserves are sufficient to cover the shortfall.

Should voters reject a levy replacement request on the Nov. 6 ballot, however, the agency's financial picture for 2008 will be much more troubled.

"We do have the cash to sustain us this year," James Bohn, the transit trustees' president, said Friday.

The board's finance committee approved the budget proposal for the full board's consideration. The board has not voted yet to place a levy on the ballot.

"But I emphasize that we've got to pass a levy or we're not going to be all right next year," he said.

Wages and benefits represent $17.7 million, or 62.5 percent of the proposed $28,260,310 budget for 2007, which would be a 2.4 percent increase over the transit authority's 2006 budget.

Wages are budgeted to rise by $62,500 because of a 3 percent wage increase that an arbitration panel awarded last month to the transit authority's drivers and mechanics.

The costs for fuel and for the agency's paratransit operations, which provide special service for patrons whose physical condi-tion prevents them from riding TARTA's regular-route buses, are expected to increase by more than $500,000.

The budget accommodates an 8 percent increase in paratransit service hours to meet demand, while no changes in regular-route service are planned, comptroller Stacey Clink told the finance committee.

Under federal law, the transit authority is required to provide rides to all paratransit clients who request them as long as those rides occur within TARTA's normal service hours and within its service area.

James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, said the effect of the pay increase is muted because the arbitrators' ruling increased the transit authority's right to use part-time workers, which will reduce overtime costs. The new contract changes how vacation pay is calculated and introduces co-payment on health insurance premiums.

The budget forecasts $25,404,020 in revenues, $14,250,000 of which is to come from the transit authority's two property tax levies. Ms. Clink said the budget assumes no increase or decrease in ridership, so farebox revenue is expected to remain nearly constant at $2.5 million.

Of the transit authority's levy revenue, $8 million comes from a 1.5-mill tax that expires at year's end.

The TARTA board voted last spring to put a replacement 1.5-mill levy on last November's ballot, but transit authority management missed a filing deadline and the request did not go to voters.

Mr. Bohn said he will likely ask the transit trustees to pass another levy replacement resolution this spring.

Had voters approved a replacement levy last fall, it would have generated an additional $2.5 million annually.

While a levy renewal collects taxes based on property assessments in effect when voters approved the original levy, a replacement levy uses updated assessments.

The transit authority's service area encompasses Toledo, Rossford, Perrysburg, Maumee, Waterville, Spencer Township, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, and Ottawa Hills.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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