VA: HRT Board Adopts $93 Mllion Budget

May 25--HAMPTON -- The Hampton Roads Transit governing board adopted a $93.2 million budget Thursday — an approximately $1 million increase over the current fiscal year's plan.

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads unanimously adopted the plan that takes effect July 1. Newport News City Councilman Joseph Whitaker and state Sen. Ralph NorthamD-Norfolk, were absent and did not cast votes.

Henry Li, HRT's chief financial officer, said the adopted budget was about $700,000 less than the initial budget developed in February. He said reductions were made after negotiations with member localities.

Changes include: a 2 percent pay increase for union personnel to offset a required Virginia Retirement System contribution; a full year of light rail operations; additional maintenance costs for 200 new and replacement bus shelters; increased utilities for new South Hampton Roads transit and administration buildings; increased safety and security initiatives; IT infrastructure improvements; and higher diesel costs.

The budget also reflects a $2.6 million reduction in federal funding and about $300,000 earmarked for advertising.

According to budget documents, Hampton will pay about $3.8 million for its bus service, about the same as the current fiscal year. Newport News will pay $5 million — a $300,000 increase. Neither city contributes to light rail operations.

Newport News and Hampton city managers Neil Morgan and Mary Bunting recently expressed concerns over transit funding.

Morgan said the HRT contribution was one of the single largest growth areas in the Newport News budget.

"We gave them some of what they asked for, but we need a dialogue," Morgan said. "There is some indication the formula is skewed so the Peninsula pays overhead more appropriate for the southside."

Bunting added: "We gave up underperforming routes and were expecting a decrease. Now, we're wondering if we should have made the cuts."

On Thursday, new HRT CEO William E. Harrell said discussions over their concerns will take place in coming weeks.

"We are sensitive to the issue," Harrell said. "We certainly recognize the Peninsula to some extent feels they are secondary to the southside. We want to change that."

Harrell said he plans to be more visible and responsive to Peninsula stakeholders. The meetings will be a first step "in a long term process to improve rapport," he said.

Copyright 2012 - Daily Press, Newport News, Va.