CARTA cutting budget but not salaries

A CARTA bus at the Charleston Visitor Center stop.

Edward C. Fennell

Bus fares are rising because of declining revenues, but so are the salaries of the administrators who run the local transit system.

An increase of 3 percent in pay and benefits for Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority staffers was left intact today as the CARTA Finance Committee slashed nearly $40,000 from the agency administration budget.

During the committee meeting, CARTA board member Steve Bedard questioned raising salaries and benefits while requiring bus riders to pay more in the new budget year starting Oct. 1.

"You're going to push it all off on the ridership. I think it sends the wrong signal. I don't think you can shove all your pain onto the ridership and not do something administratively," Bedard said.

Bedard, who is the city of Charleston's chief financial officer, noted that the city has held the line on such expenses.

CARTA requested $1,154,022 for administration, which the Finance Committee sliced to $1,115,639 while leaving the salary and benefits increase in place. A 9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance is factored into the raises. The new budget includes $612,797 in salaries and benefits for CARTA's seven administrative staffers.

Last week, the CARTA board approved a 16 percent increase for all bus fares. The basic fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75.

Despite record ridership, higher fares are needed because of a $1.3 million shortfall in Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue. CARTA is facing up to a $1 million shortfall in the current budget year ending Sept. 30, officials said.

Read more in tomorrow's Post and Courier.