Sales tax boosts C-Tran's budget

Proposed 2013-14 spending plan forecasts revenue increase of 23%

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter



C-Tran by the numbers:

$96.1 million: Proposed total revenue in C-Tran's 2013-14 budget.

$78.3 million: Total revenue in 2011-12 budget.

$16.1 million: Additional sales tax revenue C-Tran expects to collect in 2013-14, compared with 2011-12.

0.2 percentage point: Amount C-Tran's local sales tax rate increased this year, thanks to a ballot measure voters approved in 2011.

0.7 percent: C-Tran's current local sales tax rate.

C-Tran's next two-year budget includes something most public agencies would love to have: A lot more cash to work with.

The transit agency expects to bring in about 23 percent more revenue during the next two years — an increase driven mostly by a sales tax hike voters approved in 2011. The boost will push C-Tran's expected revenue to $96.1 million in 2013-14, compared with $78.3 million in 2011-12, according to the agency.

C-Tran leaders characterized the sales tax increase, which took effect in April, as necessary to maintain current levels of service. But the proposed 2013-14 budget also steers more money toward capital investments and one-time facility upgrades. Among the biggest expenditures are new buses and a broad replacement of vehicles' fare-collection systems. C-Tran will also begin moving ahead on a planned expansion of the Fisher's Landing Transit Center.

In previous years, C-Tran's capital budget was restrained as the agency faced a more difficult financial situation, said public affairs director Scott Patterson. Freeing up more for those investments now doesn't go against the message that was sent to voters last year, he said.

"These are assets that are critical to provide the service that we do, the existing bus service," Patterson said, noting some of those projects had been put off. "It's really for those reasons that we're having to dedicate probably a little bit more to capital."

C-Tran's five-year capital budget, packaged with the upcoming two-year budget, identifies $33.8 million in current and future projects. That's not including grant money

the agency plans to put toward some efforts. The fare box replacement project, for example, expects to use $3.5 million in grants to go with $2.6 million in local funding, according to C-Tran. The end result will allow passengers to pay fares electronically with a card, and improve data terminals onboard C-Tran buses, said administrative services director Diane O'Regan.

"This project also upgrades our wireless communication from the bus to C-Tran," O'Regan said. "It will be more of a cellular technology."

Capital expenditures planned for the next five years are all subtracted from C-Tran's ending fund balance in 2014, according to the budget. That's because the money is considered already committed, and thus not included in C-Tran's available cash on hand, Patterson said.

Other expenditures

The 2013-14 proposed budget includes $89.8 million in total expenditures, a 7 percent increase from 2011-12. With $96 million in revenue, that leaves the budget more than $6 million in the black, erasing the deficit C-Tran has run in recent years.

Despite the turnaround, C-Tran's long-term plan still banks on another sales tax increase in about 10 years, Patterson said. The agency is expecting expenses to still outpace revenues long term, he said, though exact details may depend on the fate of proposed bus rapid transit and light-rail systems, among other factors. In November, voters rejected a sales tax measure that would have helped pay for both of those high-capacity transit projects.

The proposed budget would boost expenditures on salary and wages by about 6.6 percent. Spending on employee benefits will jump by nearly 18 percent -- an increase driven at least partially by the rising cost of health premiums, according to C-Tran.

C-Tran board members took a look at the 2013-14 budget during a workshop meeting earlier this month. It's expected to come back to the board for approval in December.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541;;