Schenectady County

CDTA deficit poses difficult choices

The Capital District Transportation Authority is facing a dramatic budget year that could include la

The Capital District Transportation Authority is facing a dramatic budget year that could include layoffs to close a $10.6 million deficit.

The deficit in the preliminary 2012-2013 budget has officials considering eliminating staff, abolishing under-used routes and possibly even raising fares again.

The CDTA board on Wednesday adopted an $82.2 million preliminary budget that shows fuel and other costs rising while major sources of revenue hold steady or decline. Authority officials have been warning for months that the next year’s budget would be a difficult one, likely including job losses.

The board has until March to decide how to deal with the projected deficit. The main thrust is expected to be an 8 percent to 10 percent reduction in the work force, through attrition and probably also through layoffs. Exactly what jobs will be abolished hasn’t been decided.

“The centerpiece of the work will be on organizational sizing,” said CDTA Executive Director Carm Basile. “That will be the major effort in the next month or two.”

The mass transit agency that serves Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties has 250 vehicles and about 680 employees, so it could be looking at eliminating 60 to 70 jobs, he said. How that would affect day-to-day bus service isn’t yet clear.

The financial crisis comes even though CDTA has seen ridership rise about 6 percent this year, the first sustained increase since 2008.

Management hopes that most personnel cuts can come from abolishing the jobs of people who retire or leave the authority, but Basile acknowledged that is unlikely to fill the whole gap. The authority has already decided to eliminate the vacant position of deputy executive director of operations, a high-level management position that had a 2010 salary of $117,886.

“I don’t know if attrition can handle all of it. The question is how deep we have to go,” Basile said during the board meeting Wednesday at the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station.

The situation is being discussed with the Amalgamated Transit Workers, the employees’ union, he said.

CDTA is also considering route reductions and fare increases.

“We will look at our entire fare structure to see if there are places where more revenue can be generated,” Basile said.

But CDTA spokeswoman Margo Janack said an increase in the basic fare for bus riders, which would be the first since 2008, is “a last resort.” At that time, the basic fare was raised from $1 to $1.50 despite significant public unhappiness, and ridership the next year dropped 10 percent — and is only now recovering.

“The irony is that with more demand, we’re not able to meet the operating costs,” Janack said. “They’re exploring the best options right now. None of the options are good.”

The $82.2 million preliminary budget is nearly 10 percent higher than the current $75.2 million budget. The increased expenditures include higher fuel costs, a negotiated 3.5 percent pay increase for unionized employees, higher health care costs and $1 million needed as a match for federal grants.

At the same time, revenue from CDTA’s share of the mortgage recording tax is down by $3 million, and the budget assumes no increases in either federal or state aid. CDTA this year is receiving $29.2 million in state operating aid, its largest single source of funding.

Bus fares are the authority’s second-largest source of revenue, currently expected to yield $14.7 million.

Basile said CDTA officials expect to lobby state legislators for more funding, as they do every year — though in recent years those efforts have been mostly unsuccessful.

“I don’t know how many more warning signals we can send,” he said.

The authority could have faced a deficit this year, but borrowed $8 million to buy new buses rather than pay cash as it had in previous years.

CDTA board member Norman Miller of Schenectady County said the authority should be soliciting support for its lobbying efforts from businesses, given that about 70 percent of CDTA ridership is people traveling to or from work. “They have something at stake, too. They have something to lose,” he said.

The preliminary budget had to be adopted by Dec. 31 to meet a state deadline. A final budget that is balanced must be approved prior to the start of the agency’s fiscal year April 1.

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