Transit commission raises concerns about Madison Metro's operating budget

Monday, October 12, 2009

From a post by Kristin Czubkowski on The Capital Times:

While I had been working on a story about how bus ridership has been affected by the fare increase and other factors when I went to Thursday's Transit and Parking Commission meeting, what stuck out the most from that meeting was a discussion of Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's 2010 operating budget for Metro.

Members of the commission pointed out that the city's contribution to Metro was going down more than $3 million, from $10.2 million in 2009 to about $7 million in 2010, based on a one-time windfall of federal stimulus dollars, refinanced debt service, lower-than-expected gas prices and additional state transportation grants.

On the surface, this may seem like good news. The city's goal is often to reduce its subsidy to Madison Metro, but commission members said Thursday that they had concerns about the sustainability of this year's dramatic decrease and what might happen to Metro if those additional revenues did not materialize in the 2011 budget.

As Ald. Jed Sanborn, a fiscal conservative, put it: "I'm concerned about what I'm seeing. Clearly the city of Madison has a very difficult budget and clearly they've really gotten lucky here and they've used Metro as a big fill for holes in the city's operating budget."

Sanborn also noted that none of the additional revenues were being put toward Metro's reserve fund, which can be tapped into as a last resort for budget deficiencies in future years.

Metro manager Chuck Kamp said he shared Sanborn's concern, but expected fare revenues to continue increasing in 2010 as riders adjusted to the fare increase and ridership statistics began to increase again.