Cuts to service expected to balance ORT budget

Posted: January 26, 2018 at 1:06 a.m.

SPRINGDALE -- Regional transit officials passed a balanced budget Thursday but had to cut some services to do so.

"As we go through the budget, we are looking everywhere and at everything we can possibly do to balance the budget," said Joel Gardner, executive director of Ozark Regional Transit.

ORT 2018 budget

Revenue

Rental Car - $208,000

Federal - $1,603,000

Fares - $130,000

Charters - $75,000

Members - $1,088,000

NWACC - $140,000

Contract work - $24,000

Advertising - $60,000

Total - $3,328,000

Expenses

Salaries - $2,081,000

Benefits - $513,000

Travel - $15,000

Training - $9,000

Professional - $29,000

Advertising - $22,000

Software - $75,000

Insurance - $60,000

Printing - $18,000

Communications - $70,000

Facilities - $47,000

Maintenance - $160,000

Fuel - $229,000

Total - $3,328,000

Source: Ozark Regional Transit

The budget anticipates $3.3 million in revenue this year and $3.3 million in expenses, if all goes as planned.

The transit provider was facing a $338,000 shortfall and asked member cities and counties to contribute more money to maintain service levels.

"All-in-all, when we're looking at the 2018 budget, we're realizing there are going to be some service cuts and we are taking those as independent entities as we go through so it's not a mass service cut across the board," Gardner said. "We don't have one city supporting another city's expenditures. We're treating them as individual entities within our agency."

Fayetteville increased its contribution by $122,000 and will see no reduction in service hours. Springdale is still considering options and is expected to make a decision by mid-February whether to contribute more money or cut service.

Rogers and Bentonville opted not to give more money at this time so each route in those cities will be reduced by an hour and a half per day, either in the mornings or evenings.

Washington County cut $100,000 from its annual payment and will see demand response service, where county residents can call for rides, cut from five days a week to only Tuesday and Thursday.

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Northwest Arkansas Community College agreed to pay the same amount as in previous years but that's not enough to keep two buses serving the campus every day. The express run with the fewest passengers will be eliminated from the schedule and service will go from hourly to every two hours.

George's, the chicken producer in Springdale, dropped a route it had been paying for. The revenue from that route and expenses associated with it were taken out of the regional transit budget.

Gardner said the route changes should start about Feb. 19

Don Marr, who represents Fayetteville on the transit board, cautioned administrators and staff to keep a close eye on revenue and expenses this year in order to avoid unexpected problems.

"To me it was a surprise to learn in December we were $338,000 short," Marr said. "What barometer do you have to know that we have a financial train wreck that's coming?"

Marr stressed that the regional transit system has no cash reserve to fall back on if budget projections are way off.

"I'm great with good news. I'm pretty good with bad news," Marr said. "I'm a bear with surprises. And, I think my council is that way also."

Repair and maintenance costs are expected to be lower this year because the loaned, leased and borrowed buses the carrier has been using since a fire destroyed most of the fleet last January are being retired or returned. Those buses, of all different makes and models, strained the budget because they all had to be made road worthy and maintained and repaired.

The reductions in routes and hours of service also resulted in lower estimated costs for employees next year. Fuel costs are expected to be lower with the integration of more fuel efficient vehicles being added to the fleet.

Regional transit has received all but one of the eight new buses it ordered and all are expected to be on the road by the end of the month. Seven buses leased from Dallas Area Rapid Transit have been moved off property and will be destroyed as required by the Texas Department of Environmental Quality. Officials are discussing what to do with eight buses from Wichita, Kan. They could be returned or sold. And, two buses from Southeast Arkansas Transit are expected to be returned in the next few days.

Advertising revenue is expected to increase because space will be available on the new buses. Charter service is also expected to pick up.

Finally, insurance coverage is expected to drop from about $110,000 per year to about $60,000 as new buses are integrated into the fleet and the loaned, leased and borrowed buses in the fleet are reduced. Gardner said there could be further insurance savings if coverage was to be reduced. He said with the exception of the fire, the transit system has not had a significant number of claims.

Jim Kimbrough, who represents Washington County on the transit board, said he's leery of reducing coverage.

"I'm truly concerned about this insurance thing," Kimbrough said. "I think that one could be catastrophic to us. It just takes one good one."

NW News on 01/26/2018