PA: BeST Board Approves Tentative Budget

May 29--GREENS LANDING -- The BeST Transit board of directors Wednesday granted approval to a tentative budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

Transit authority officials worked to create a balanced budget for the upcoming fiscal year despite steep increases in worker's compensation and health insurance costs, said general manager Bill Nichols.

"So far, it looks good," Nichols said of the budget. "We know we can do a balanced budget. This is a good starting point."

The $4,116,067 budget, an increase from last year's $3,682,054 spending plan, absorbs a 26 percent increase in worker's compensation insurance costs and a 30 percent increase in health insurance costs.

Officials are exploring options to lower insurance costs in the next fiscal year, Nichols said. The insurance consortium BeST currently belongs to will likely dissolve as a result of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, officials said.

The authority will receive a dividend back to offset some of the worker's compensation increases, but officials said the exact amount will not be released until August and was not included in the budget.

The tentative shared ride budget also relies on $325,000 from its state operating grant allocation to offset the program's costs. The program's average cost per trip of $37.58 exceeds its average reimbursement of $32.72, creating a loss of $4.87 per trip. Based on those figures and ridership numbers from BeST's three-county service area, the shared ride program has seen a loss of about $313,000 over the past 12 months.

BeST officials plan to ask the state to allow for a shared ride fare increase, the first in "quite some time," Nichols said. Fixed route fares will remain the same.

Anticipated revenues include $1,571,538 in fares, transportation contracts and other non-subsidy revenues, $981,114 in state-awarded shared ride revenue and $1,563,415 in operating assistance funds, according to the tentative budget.

The authority plans to request additional state funding to expand its fixed route programs, Nichols said. In a May 27 memorandum to state transit officials, Nichols requests additional rural transportation funding to supplement current operations and expand fixed route services.

The authority hopes to establish connecting routes between BeST and River Valley Transit of Williamsport to expand its regional network and also hopes to restart fixed route service between Troy and Mansfield. The authority also wants to fulfill requests from local human service organizations to provide transportation, Nichols writes.

The board will vote on the final budget at its next meeting, scheduled for June 25.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.

Copyright 2014 - The Daily Review, Towanda, Pa.

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