Marin Transit Budget Rises 5 Percent

April 18--A $31 million county transit budget for next fiscal year will force officials to use $2 million in reserve funds to make ends meet, it was reported Monday.

David Rzepinski, chief of the Marin County Transit District, said a funding crunch has left the agency with little choice on how to balance its books next fiscal year.

Although the district reserve fund will total about $4.8 million after the budget financing move, "it is clear that an additional year with a similar deficit will require the district to use funds ... designated emergency reserves," noted Lauren Gradia, district finance manager.

Supervisor Hal Brown, recovering at home from cancer treatments, missed a session of the county transit board Monday, but relayed word he is concerned about dipping into reserve funds, Rzepinski reported.

The board will discuss merits of the budget at a public hearing at the Civic Center set for 10 a.m. May 16.

The spending program includes a $25.5 million operating budget, up about 5 percent over this fiscal year, primarily because of additional spending benefiting seniors, $700,000; increases in contract costs charged by the Golden Gate Bridge District, $700,000; increases in paratransit services, $220,000, and increased fuel costs, $115,000. A $5.5 million capital improvement budget is up 33 percent from this year due to scheduled vehicle purchases and a bus maintenance program.

The budget includes $350,000 for consultant services

to help the 9.5-member staff, but Rzepinski noted the district held similar expenses this year to $244,000, even though $310,000 was budgeted.

The budget also includes funding to continue a poorly used West Marin transit shuttle, or "stagecoach," linking Point Reyes and Bolinas with other routes, but officials are studying ways to curb the service or merge it with others to cut costs. The service, used by just 86 passengers in January, cost taxpayers $57 per passenger to subsidize.

"We've known for a long time this one is not doing it," said Supervisor Steve Kinsey of the coastal Route 62. "The question is when and how we make changes." Other poorly used routes also will be analyzed, officials said.

Amid the talk of subsidies, increasing costs and budget woes came brighter news from officials including Carolyn Clevenger, associate planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. It costs the Marin transit district an average of roughly $111 an operational hour to run a bus -- near the most efficient end of a pack of Bay Area transit agencies. Similar expenses at the Golden Gate Bridge District average $185 an hour, officials said.

"We are lean," Rzepinski said. "Lean."

Contact Nels Johnson via email at ___

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