There will be no pay increase for the public bus system's administration despite its request for $14,000 more in salary and benefits in the new budget year, board Chairman Patterson Smith said Friday.
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority 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. Last week, the CARTA board raised bus fares, and next week a committee tackles the issue of which, if any, bus routes to cut.
Smith made it clear that the Finance Committee at its meeting Monday will not make a recommendation for a CARTA administration pay hike at a time when fares are scheduled to go up 16 percent across the board.
The Finance Committee met Aug. 25 to review the budget and find ways to make up the anticipated budget shortfall of more than $1 million. The committee recommended more than $38,000 in cuts during a line-item review of the proposed $1.1 million administration budget. It did not immediately address the issue of the CARTA administration request for a pay hike, instead referring the issue back to the staff for further study.
On Friday, Smith confirmed that pay would be frozen for the seven-member CARTA administration for the 2011 fiscal year.
In a draft budget proposal released last week, the CARTA administration requested a $14,482 increase in salaries and benefits for a total compensation package of $612,797. The CARTA administration is facing a 9 percent increase in the cost of health insurance, officials said.
The 2011 CARTA budget report was made available at the CARTA board meeting Aug. 18, when the fare hike was approved. The report showed that the administration was seeking $67,290 more for its new budget compared with the administration budget the board approved for the current fiscal year. The requested administration budget for 2011 includes $37,500 for training, travel, professional dues and transportation, a $9,500 increase over the current year's approved budget.
The CARTA board approved a 16 percent increase in bus fares that goes into effect Oct. 1, when the basic fare will rise from $1.50 to $1.75. Route cuts also are on the table that could mean the end of CARTA@Night, Otranto/Stall Route 106 or other routes that don't attract enough customers. The possibility of less Sunday service has been discussed.
At 4 p.m. Wednesday, CARTA will hold a Route Performance Committee meeting to analyze bus routes and make recommendations on which, if any, routes to cut.
Because of the state of the economy, CARTA is looking for ways to make up a projected shortfall of $1.4 million 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.
The CARTA Human Resource Committee will consider the issue of CARTA administration salaries and benefits at 1:30 p.m. Monday. It will make a recommendation to the Finance Committee, which meets at 4 p.m. Monday, Smith said.
Recommendations of the Finance, Human Resource and Route Performance committees will go to the CARTA board for consideration at its 2 p.m. Sept. 15 meeting at the Charleston County Main Library.
During the Finance Committee meeting last Wednesday, board member Steve Bedard questioned the CARTA administration's request for $14,482 more in salaries and benefits at a time when CARTA has raised bus fares by 16 percent 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 into 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. This year, the salaries of all city employees, department heads and the mayor were cut because of the economic downturn.
Eliminating the Otranto/Stall Route 106 and CARTA@Night is recommended to board members in a memo from CARTA Executive Director Howard Chapman. He said two more buses are needed for Route 10 Rivers Avenue to relieve overcrowding.
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. Finance Committee members learned Wednesday that at least another $450,000 in cuts in fixed-route service will be needed to balance the budget.
Other options include changes to the Express Route 2 Mount Pleasant/West Ashley, which would save $70,000. Eliminating some Sunday bus service would reduce costs by $247,000.