CARTA panel OKs salary cuts

A CARTA Dash bus drives past the Charleston Visitor Center on Meeting Street.

Grace Beahm

A slight salary cut was approved Monday for the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority administrative staff as CARTA wrestles with an anticipated budget shortfall of more than $1 million, officials said.

"This is tough times for everybody," said North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey, chairman of the CARTA Human Resources Committee.

The committee voted unanimously to cut CARTA administration salaries by 0.25 percent, officials said.

Those voting were CARTA board Chairman Patterson Smith, Summey, Teddie Pryor and Yvonne Evans.

"I'm sure the staff knows that we regret having to do this," Evans said.

The committee's recommendation to cut salaries will be considered by the full CARTA board on Sept. 15.

"I think the overall board will pass what we have done," Summey said.

The board recently approved a 16 percent increase in CARTA fares effective Oct. 1 when the new budget year begins. The basic fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75.

While speaking with the media, Summey said CARTA would release salaries for its seven administrative staff members because it is public information. He said the information could be e-mailed to The Post and Courier on Monday afternoon. A CARTA staffer refused to provide the salaries and said a written request for the information must be submitted first.

CARTA is struggling to balance its budget for the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1 because of a projected downturn in Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue.

CARTA staff had requested $612,797 for salaries and benefits, which is $14,482 more than was approved for the current budget year, according to the CARTA Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Budget Report.

The CARTA administration staff is facing a 9 percent increase in health insurance costs. Summey said a pay cut of up to 3 percent was considered.

The financial situation could mean the end of CARTA@Night, Otranto/Stall Route 106 or other routes that don't attract enough customers. The possibility of reducing Sunday service also has been discussed.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the CARTA Route Performance Committee will meet to analyze bus routes and make recommendations on which, if any, routes to cut. CARTA is looking for ways to make up a projected $1.4 million loss in Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue in the new budget year. CARTA faced the same situation in the current budget year ending Sept. 30, but was able to avoid raising fares or cutting routes in part because of increased ridership, officials said.

Otranto/Stall Route 106 and CARTA@Night have the lowest ridership in the CARTA system. Last month, a combined 2,703 riders used the routes. In comparison, a Rivers Avenue route draws 85,230 riders per month and needs more buses.

Eliminating Route 106 and all CARTA@Night services would save $543,000 annually. CARTA board members have been told that at least an additional $450,000 in cuts in fixed-route service will be needed to balance the budget.