The Metro Board of Commissioners today approved an operating budget of $232.4 million for Fiscal Year 2011 that includes funds to restore transit services that were cut in 2009. The budget also includes freezes on salaries and hiring, and reductions to expenditures across the board.
Metro President and CEO Robert J. Baer told the Board that Metro remains under tight spending and budget restrictions despite passage of a half-cent sales tax by voters in St. Louis County in April. Those funds will not begin to be collected until July 1 and will not begin to arrive at Metro until late September. He noted the $80 million a year projected to result from the new sales tax already is committed to critical financial needs (see details below). He added that, contrary to popular belief since passage of the tax, “We’re not rolling in dough.”
Baer said tight fiscal management and spending controls had kept the FY 2011 budget increase at less than the inflation rate of 3 percent a year since FY 2008, and that Metro is finishing FY 2010 by spending $4 million less than budgeted.
“We have publicly committed to being good stewards of public funds, and I believe you and the taxpayers will see we have done just that,” Baer told the Board.
The Board also approved a recommendation from management to defer fare increases that had been scheduled for July 1, 2010 until sometime in 2011. Baer said it was not appropriate to raise fares before service was restored to pre-2009 levels. He also said fares are the only source of revenue keeping pace with inflation and already are in line with those charged by other transit systems.
In addition to restoring services eliminated for financial reasons in 2009, Baer said the new sales tax revenue is committed to replacing a $5 million decline in sales tax revenue and replacing the one-time appropriation of $12 million from the state of Missouri in FY 2010. The revenue also will replace millions of dollars in federal capital funds spent on operations in FY 2010, freeing those federal funds to be used partly to acquire more buses for service restoration. The new budget also reflects $6 million in higher costs for fuel, medical costs and utilities, and $4.8 million more to provide additional services under contract with the St. Clair County Transit District in Illinois.
Baer said it was difficult but financially necessary to freeze salaries except for increases already contractually required and to freeze hiring except for positions that are determined to be “mission critical.” He said that even with plans to hire 120 new drivers, mechanics and supervisors needed to restore service, the agency would operate with approximately 90 fewer employees in 2011 than it did in 2009.
Baer said restoring service to pre-2009 levels would mean Metro would again serve 95 percent of households in the region and reach 97 percent of employment sites. Restoration also will mean a modest increase in passenger revenue for FY 2011.
Baer noted that, despite the severe budget restrictions of the last few years, FY 2010 was a year of significant achievements. He said the agency:
* Maintained impressive service and vehicle maintenance performance standards despite downsizing
* Conducted hundreds of public meetings and community engagements to educate the public about transit
* Completed the region’s first comprehensive, long-range plan for public transit over the next 30 years in cooperation with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments
* Replaced the Vandeventer Bridge in six days
* Constructed a state-of-the-art light rail paint facility in East St. Louis, IL, investing nearly $4 million in that community
* Implemented Oracle’s Human Resource Capital Management system
* Won several national awards and recognition
Baer also said projects scheduled for 2011, in addition to service restoration, include:
* Beginning the Eads Bridge rehabilitation
* Installing track crossovers at the east end of Eads Bridge and at the University of Missouri St. Louis
* Completing repaving of the North Hanley MetroLink Station
* Repairing erosion along the MetroLink track between Fairview Heights and Swansea in Illinois