Ben Franklin Transit tax revenues down from '08

KENNEWICK — Improvement in sales tax revenues this year hasn't been enough to make it any easier to prepare Ben Franklin Transit's 2011 budget.

Revenues still are short of 2008 levels, said Kathy McMullen, the transit's manager of service development. As a result, she said BFT is looking at various possibilities that range from a wage freeze to service cuts.

The 2010 budget included $27,78,862 in projected revenues and $26,660,164 in operating costs.

Budget discussions for next year are in very early stages, McMullen said. A lot depends on what happens with sales tax revenues and employee wages.

McMullen said wages are the agency's largest expenditure, and the transit system is negotiating a new contract with the Teamsters union which represents many transit employees.

"We may consider service cuts" if expenses including wages increase more than anticipated revenues, McMullen said. "We are being cautious."

But nothing is definite yet, she said.

Gas prices are on the rise again and a fuel hedging program BFT participates in to potentially reduce costs may change, she said.

Also, the transit's insurance costs are projected to increase about 5 percent, and there's need to put money aside for buying new equipment, McMullen said. Grant money from the state also remains uncertain.

A transit official will provide the latest information on BFT's sales tax revenues at today's board meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the new administration building at 1000 Columbia Park Trail, Richland.

All budget discussions with the transit board will be open to the public.

* Pratik Joshi: 509-582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com