C-Tran board OKs healthier spending plan

2011 sales tax hike puts '13-14 budget in black

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday approved a two-year budget that includes a big boost in revenue and puts the transit agency in the black for the first time in years.

The 2013-14 budget lists $96.1 million in operating revenue, compared to $78.3 million in 2011-12. That's a 23 percent increase, driven largely by a 0.2 percentage point sales tax hike voters approved in 2011. The new tax rate took effect in April.

As a result of that extra money, C-Tran expects to operate at a net profit during the next two years, taking in about $6 million more than it plans to spend, according to the budget. The agency had functioned at a deficit in recent years, and has seen continued financial instability since losing much of its state funding more than a decade ago.

Several board members said Tuesday they were happy to see that's no longer the case, at least for now. Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley said he felt comfortable with the agency's latest budget, a sentiment he hasn't felt in the past.

"I finally see some stability in the budget," Ganley said. "The scalpel is not out anymore, and I think this is going to be a positive to the community."

C-Tran leaders characterized last year's sales tax measure as necessary to maintain current levels of bus service. But the 2013-14 budget also directs more spending to capital investments and facility upgrades. Those expenditures include new buses, a broad replacement of fare collection systems, and the beginning stages of a planned expansion of the Fisher's Landing Transit Center.

C-Tran plans to spend about $3.1 million in local funding for replacement buses, plus $11 million in grants. Fisher's Landing will get $210,000 in local dollars, along with $800,000 in grants, for planning.

The budget does not include any sales tax revenue or expenditures for high-capacity transit after this year's election, according to C-Tran.

In November, voters shot down another sales tax increase that would have helped pay for a proposed bus rapid transit line on Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor, and a light rail extension planned as part of the Columbia River Crossing project.

The budget does, however, include continued planning for both of those systems. Those expenditures will be paid through grant funding in the case of bus rapid transit, and bus advertising revenue for the CRC, not to exceed $100,000 per year, according to the agency.

The budget passed unanimously.

At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, the board honored outgoing Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, attending his last C-Tran meeting as a board member. Commissioner-elect David Madore, who defeated Boldt in the November election, will be sworn into office next month.


Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.