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PSTA wants to tap property tax, fare box revenue to balance budget

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is taking steps to ensure its continued solvency. A budget proposal being presented to the PSTA board next week shows financial stability for the agency over the next four years.

“It shows strong financial management and the health of PSTA to go from the adopted current budget’s plan relying on more than $2 million in reserves to now predicting a surplus of nearly half a million dollars,” said PSTA Executive Committee member Darden Rice.

Among provisions in the initial 2016 budget are plans to use local revenue for bus replacement plans. In order to pay for that, the board will have to consider cost-cutting strategies and other strategic plans to ensure the board maintains a strong financial footing.

“It’s really important that we have a solid multi-year sustainable plan,” said PSTA Board Chair Bill Jonson. “It’s the first step of many on our Path Forward.”

The PSTA board adopted the Path Forward Plan last month and serves as the guiding principle for the 2016 budget.

The budget identifies five targeted areas in which the agency can either cut costs or boost revenue. Those ideas include things like outsourcing advertising and increasing fare box revenue.

The planned budget would also rely on maximizing the allowable property tax revenue. PSTA currently collects a .7305 millage rate to fund operations. They can collect up to .75.

Another plan would be extending the life of current PSTA buses from 12 years to 15 and locking in diesel fuel prices at $2.40 a gallon. Another cost-cutting measure includes redesigning service to ensure resources are used where they are most effective.

“In remaining committed to exploring all options, we have come up with five target areas that we feel will both lower our expenses and increase revenues,” said PSTA Chief Executive Officer Brad Miller. “Above all we want to provide good service to our customers, and that will not be compromised.”

Some route changes being considered include areas around East Lake, Pinellas Park, Seminole and St. Pete. The plans will be presented at a meeting next month.

Board members will hear more information about fare box fee changes in August.

PSTA has long been grappling with looming insolvency. Originally staff had estimated the agency would become insolvent by 2017. With this proposed budget PSTA would be financially secure until 2021.

The budget talks are just one part of PSTA’s continued efforts to identify new sources of revenue and efficiencies in the wake of the Greenlight Pinellas defeat last year. That effort would have solved PSTA’s insolvency concerns while also funding sweeping transit improvements across the county.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected that plan, which would have raised sales tax by one percent.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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