SORTA Trying To Balance 2019 Budget Without Service Cuts Or Fare Increase
Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) officials are working on balancing the transit agency's budget without additional revenue from a sales tax increase.
The board that operates Metro buses decided in July against placing that levy on the November ballot.
SORTA General Manager Dwight Ferrell told a city council committee Tuesday they're looking at options.
"We're trying to get through 2019 with the same level of service that we have right now, ideally without necessarily having to have a fare increase," Ferrell said. "But again, that's a board decision to make whether they want to petition this body to do that."
Chief Financial Officer David Riposo said staff will present a budget to the SORTA board in November, which could include using reserve funds to balance.
"That may encumber quite a bit of those reserves, maybe even all of them," Riposo said. "That's going to be a discussion that we'll take to the board along with any other levers that we have, such as a fare increase, hiring freezes, those types of things."
SORTA members decided to ask voters to approve a sales tax request to fund Metro more than a year ago. Since then, they've been considering a few things. A consultant gave the board a report in June that confirmed the bus service faced a $184 million deficit over the next 10 years.
SORTA Board Chairman Kreg Keesee wrote to board members in July about delaying the sales tax increase request.
"It has become clear to me that we have not reached an appropriate consensus within the Board and the community to vote tomorrow to present Hamilton County voters with a sales tax option to address the significant financial and operational needs of the Metro bus system," he said. "I do not believe that the current environment provides a clear path to victory at the polls even if consensus had been reached."
Keesee said at the time the board would turn its attention to a balanced budget for next year that has the least effect on riders.
Critics of the sales tax say there needs to be more of a regional solution for transit.
Others say there will be too many other asks on the November ballot.
The Reinventing Metro plan said a half-cent sales tax would maintain current service levels. Amounts above that would allow for increased service, including crosstown routes, 24-hour service on major routes, and more weekend hours. If voters were to approve the sales tax, SORTA would stop using Cincinnati's earnings tax contribution.
WVXU's Bill Rinehart contributed to this story.