City's deficit may force cuts in bus service

Officials grapple with possible cutbacks in parks and rec, increased employee costs

Posted: Friday, April 09, 2004

The city would eliminate half-hour morning bus service and increase fare rates - despite ridership increases - as part of budget cutbacks, officials said Thursday.

The city is facing a $1.5 million shortfall in its $189 million budget for fiscal year 2005. Retirement account expenses make up half of the increased budget spending along with wage and service increases. City Manager Rod Swope presented his proposed budget to the Finance Committee for the first time Thursday night.

For Lillian Sinnhuber and her family, the cutbacks may mean having to move out of Juneau, she said Thursday while waiting at the Egan Drive and Main Street bus shelter.

"It's crazy they can't do that," Sinnhuber said.

The city is proposing to begin half-hour bus service at 11 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Sinnhuber uses the 7:30 a.m. bus from her house in Lemon Creek to get to her job at the University of Alaska Southeast in Auke Bay. Her children, 13-year-old Thomas and Torey, 10, take the 8:30 a.m. bus to attend classes at the Juneau Community Charter School.

When the city went to half-hour bus service three years ago, Capital Transit's ridership increased but it failed to pay for the additional drivers, fuel and maintenance costs, City Manager Rod Swope said. City officials suspect more bus riders using reduced-price fare passes and tokens hurt the transit budget. As a result, the city must increase its subsidy to transit by $270,000 a year more than originally anticipated, Swope said.

The city anticipates a 10 percent decrease in ridership and 3 percent reduction in revenues as a result of the cuts. It expects to save $144,500 in FY05 and $151,700 in FY06. The full-time equivalent of 212 transit positions would be eliminated over that two-year period.

Further, the city wants to charge people with disabilities and senior citizens $12 for monthly bus passes and single cash fare. They now ride for free.

Swope is also proposing a cut of 11.4 full-time equivalent positions throughout the city including the elimination of two vacant public dispatcher positions, an information specialist, a firefighter, and three part-time positions in the finance department. The city would eliminate the fire department's program that pays for employees to attend training leading to a paramedic license. The one position used to cover staffing, while an employee is away at training, would be eliminated.

The Parks and Recreation Department faces $530,000 in cuts in FYs 05 and 06 along with a full-time equivalent staff reduction of 1.56. As a result, some facilities will be open to the public for fewer hours including the Treadwell Ice Arena, Zach Gordon Youth Center and the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.

Parks and Recreation also faces a reduction in park and landscape maintenance staffing and overtime that would result in a decrease in the number of fall and winter projects that are completed.

Increases in the contribution to the Public Employee's Retirement System is expected to jump by $1 million for FY05 and $2 million in FY06. Increases in operating costs that include school district funding, wage increases and services will increase by $630,000 in FY05 and $1.2 million by FY06. The city will have to appropriate $185,000 to Centennial Hall for the first time in its history due to hotel tax revenue drops. The biggest financial gain is $1.47 milion in property tax revenue for FY05. It's expected to jump to $2 milllion by FY06.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for April 26. The Assembly must adopt the budget by June 15.

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