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Ben Franklin Transit officials trying to hold line on spending

There are no plans in the Ben Franklin Transit 2012 budget to lay off workers, eliminate routes or cut services.

The budget as written also does not propose raising fares, but transit officials said that might be considered in 2012.

Instead, transit staff are trying to keep close to current 2011 spending, said Kathy McMullen, Benton Franklin Transit service development manager.

"We're planning that sales taxes will remain pretty flat and just hope they do not fall off," she said.

Sales taxes collected in the areas served by the transit system are a large part of the $30.2 million operating revenues for the year.

The transit board meets at 7 p.m. today to vote on adopting the 2012 operating and capital budgets.

Next year's budget projects the transit system will receive $23.4 million in sales tax money with only$4.7 million coming from fares and $2.4 million from state and federal sources.

The proposed $30.2 million 2012 budget is a 4.5 percent increase over this year's $28.9 million budget, and includes $29 million in spending and leaves $1.2 million in reserves.

"We're trying to keep everything very flat," McMullen said.

One way the budget proposes to hold the line on costs is to freeze wages for most transit workers. Only mechanics under a union contract would get a 2.5 percent increase, and some workers who have been with the transit system less than five to six years may qualify for merit raises, but no cost-of-living increases are budgeted, she said.

So far, layoffs at Hanford haven't had a big impact on ridership, she said.

"A lot of (vanpool) vehicles have been turned back in -- about 30 -- but there's a lot of demand, so they're going out on the street almost as fast as they come in," McMullen said.

There has been an increase in overall ridership from Prosser and Benton City, yet a decrease in the number of miles the buses have driven because the transit system has added mobile data terminals that improve the efficiency of the vehicles used in those areas, McMullen said.

With the data terminals, drivers are able to map out efficient routes and alter routes by deleting or adding pick-ups while on the road. This helps cut down the road miles, she said.

During the past two years, the transit system already has trimmed some night and bus services and cut everything that didn't operate efficiently, McMullen said.

"If we cut anymore, it will be difficult for people to get to work and school. We will not make any more cuts if we can possibly help it," she said.

There should be no changes in the taxi feeder service in Finley and south Kennewick. The service contracts with Tri-City Taxi to pick up riders and deliver them to the Dayton Street Transfer Point in Kennewick, where riders then have access to the buses.

The agency's $3.3 million capital budget includes $1.5 million to buy 17 new Dial-A-Ride vehicles and $1.8 million for 65 more fuel-efficient vanpool vehicles. These are some of the older vehicles in the transit fleet and are costing more to maintain and operate. Most of the money for capital expenditures is budgeted to come from state and federal grants.

Tonight's meeting is at 1000 Columbia Park Trail, Richland.

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