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3% raise in transit spending endorsed

by Noel Oman | November 29, 2017 at 3:16 a.m.
FILE — A Rock Region Metro bus driver prepares to board his bus at the River Cities Travel Center in downtown Little Rock in this Nov. 28, 2017, file photo.

The Rock Region Metro board of directors on Tuesday approved a proposed $18 million operating budget for 2018.

Next year's budget is 3 percent greater than the 2017 operating budget.

The budget includes contributions totaling $13,306,801 from Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle and Pulaski County, which are the Pulaski County transit agency's funding partners.

The amount from county and cities is $442,431, or 3.44 percent, more than $12,864,370 the agency requested from them for 2017.

Most of the total contributions, about $10.3 million, will subsidize regular bus routes. Just under $2 million will go to Metro Links, which is a service for people with disabilities, and about $1 million will pay for the streetcars.

Most of Rock Region's operating budget goes toward labor and fuel costs.

Labor costs will rise 3.41 percent in 2018 from 2017, to $7.4 million. Fringe benefits will total $3.3 million in 2018, an increase of less than a half percent over this year.

Costs for fuel, which include gasoline, compressed natural gas and diesel, are budgeted to account for just over $900,000 next year, a slight increase from 2017.

"A 3 percent increase is very reasonable," said Wanda Crawford, the agency's acting executive director. "The cities are very happy with it."

But Little Rock is among the funding partners that have yet to approve their contribution. The city's Board of Directors will vote on the budget next month.

Little Rock contributes the most. Rock Region has asked the city for $9,190,757, which is $327,782, or 3.7 percent, more than the $8,862,975 it is contributing this year.

Rock Region also has requested $2,751,849 from North Little Rock, which is a 2.9 percent increase over 2017; $1,245,184 from Pulaski County, a 2.71 percent increase; $79,750 from Sherwood, a 3.57 percent increase; and $39,261 from Maumelle, 3.56 percent more than 2017.

The total proposed operating budget of $18,094,170 represents a 3 percent increase over the 2017 budget, which covers pay increases under the bargaining agreement the transit agency has with union employees, slightly higher fuel prices and a continuing trend of falling ridership, blamed on low fuel prices.

"I know there's always concern with the increase and I know there's concern with the negotiated salaries increase," said board member Sara Lenehan, who is Little Rock's finance director.

Still, with few exceptions, she added, "it truly is a status-quo budget."

Metro on 11/29/2017

Print Headline: 3% raise in transit spending endorsed


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