SC: PDRTA Faces Budget Woes

May 25--FLORENCE, S.C. -- Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Chuck MacNeil had some tough news to break about potential budget cuts that are confronting the board to his employees gathered for a dinner Thursday.

MacNeil told the board that even with recommendations factored in to the 2013 draft budget, the agency would still face a deficit of $500,000.

Some recommendations that haven't been approved by the finance committee factor in savings from the discontinuation of the Hartsville service, reducing all non-driving positions hours from 40 to 37.5 a week from July to December, scaling back trips on the commuter route to Florence-Darlington Technical College from five to three trips a day, increasing fares for the Myrtle Beach bus from $3.50 to $5, and cutting the Florence 5 route, the least traveled bus route in the county.

The proposed budget also includes an increase in merit raises, cost-of-living increases and inflation.

With those all factored into the draft budget, MacNeil said more work still needs to be done.

"We have to keep looking. Therefore, I mean hopefully we can manage decline and get through the next six months, 12 months, 18 months, to the point that I'm optimistic that there'll be better economic times, and we'll be able to get additional new dedicated revenue sources," MacNeil said. "In the meantime, we have no choice but to be able to make sure that we can pay for what we can provide."

Medicaid money the agency and others have relied on for decades to underwrite services has dried up after the state changed the model five years ago, according to MacNeil.

"Since that revenue was used for so long to support the network of services we provide in the Pee Dee region, we now are forced to find other options to support sustaining those services," he said.

The projected budget doesn't include the possible cut of a $125 health insurance subsidy provided by PDRTA to some employees. Should that cut be adopted, non-driving positions could return to 40 hours a week from the proposed 37.5.

Board member Lisa Seabrook said the board should heavily evaluate that measure.

"Personally I could get along better with someone working less time than maintaining their insurance," Seabrook said. "Because I've been one of those people who lost their insurance and didn't have it, and it's hard if you're not making no money and then you have to go to the doctor."

Member Nancy Finklea, who read the recommendations the finance committee failed to vote upon due to a lack of quorum earlier in the month, agreed with the approved motion that the board continue to study proposed recommendations.

"I think that we should weigh any merit increase or cost-of-living increase against the amount of $125 per employee, which they will have to pick up from the cost of their insurance," Finklea said. "So that whatever we do, we have the least negative impact on the non-administrative employees, which are our lowest-paid employees. That is my feeling."

The board has until July 1 to implement a balanced budget.

The current balance sheet for April shows PDRTA operating at a negative $125,396, preceded by negative net funds in March and February. Revenue for April was $454,180, down 8 percent and 11 percent from March and February, respectively.

Copyright 2012 - Florence Morning News, S.C.