Friday, September 23, 2011

Mountain Rides tightens its belt

Organization plans to operate on 11 percent less in fiscal 2012


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Even though ridership is up more than 12 percent this year, Mountain Rides Transportation Authority is facing an 11 percent cut in its operations budget for fiscal 2012. Above, passengers board a “Blue Route” bus in downtown Ketchum on Wednesday. Photo by David N. Seelig

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority is looking at having 11 percent less to operate its commuter bus and van fleet for the coming fiscal year.

On Wednesday, the Mountain Rides board of directors approved a $3.9 million budget for fiscal 2012, which starts Oct. 1. The total is divided into $2.2 million for operations and $1.7 million for capital expenditures.

That compares to a total fiscal 2011 budget of $4.5 million, broken down into $2.5 million for operations and $2 million for capital expenses.

Operational funds

On the operations side, Mountain Rides expects 30 percent less federal funding than it received this year. Instead of $915,000 budgeted this year, the organization anticipates receiving $642,000 for fiscal 2012.

Part of the difference in federal funding between the two years was a grant of $180,000 budgeted in fiscal 2011 to start a commuter bus service between the Magic Valley and the Wood River Valley. The organization's board of directors voted earlier this year to cancel that plan because fewer workers are commuting to the Wood River Valley due to the recession. Since the money wasn't spent, it was returned to the federal coffers.

Funding for fiscal 2012 is also 2 percent less than Mountain Rides received from its local funding partners in fiscal 2011. Instead of getting $1.18 million from local partners this year, Mountain Rides will receive only $1.16 million for fiscal 2012.

Mountain Rides had asked its local partners to increase funding by 5 percent for the coming year, but only the city of Ketchum was willing to comply with the request. Ketchum is providing $522,000 for the coming year, compared to $497,000 this year.

Hailey cut its contribution from $75,000 to $65,000 and Sun Valley reduced its funding from $300,000 to $275,000. Bellevue contributed $1,000 in fiscal 2011 and is contributing nothing in fiscal 2012.

Blaine County's funding was fairly consistent, contributing about $123,000 each year. Also consistent was a total of $170,000 in funding both years from Sun Valley Co. and other businesses that use Mountain Rides' buses and vans for skier traffic or employee transportation.

The 11 percent cut in operations funding comes at a time when ridership is on the rise. By the end of August, ridership was up 12.21 percent from the same period in 2010. That followed another 12 percent increase in ridership in 2010 from 2009.

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Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said the organization will be able to absorb the funding loss by not filling a few staff vacancies and by cutting the number of runs on some of its routes.

Which routes will be affected won't be decided until a public workshop scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12. That will be followed by a board of directors vote at a meeting on Oct. 19.

Mountain Rides currently provides free around-town bus service in Hailey and in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area and paid-fare service between the north and south valley. It also provides paid-fare commuter van service from the Magic Valley.

Miller said the organization will not cut any of its routes, but that it will have to be "trimmed here and there."

"We want to see that ridership continues to go up so we have to be careful how we handle any service cutbacks," Miller said.

Capital funds

Of the $1.7 million for capital expenditures, $1.35 million is in federal funding with most of the remainder coming in local matching money. None of the federal funding is new money. Rather, it's the remnants of a $1.65 million economic stimulus grant given to Mountain Rides in 2009 for new buses and a federal grant provided in 2010 for bus facilities.

According to its budget, Mountain Rides intends to spend $1 million in capital funds for a new bus facility that it plans to build in Bellevue. The organization is still considering several locations to build the facility.

Mountain Rides intends to spend the balance of the capital funds on another new bus, a new van, upgrades to its facility in Ketchum and on audible bus stop enunciators.

Miller said that overall, the budget for fiscal 2012 is better than he feared earlier when transportation funding from the federal government looked bleak. Future funding, however, is still uncertain as Congress puts together a new transportation bill.

"We're still looking at maintaining our core services, but we're not looking at expansion as we have in the past," Miller said. "We're not getting fat, that's for sure."

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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