For the first time since the newly hired Sarasota County Area Transit General Manager Glama Carter took her position in August, she experienced the tension that often tinges budget discussions of the Sarasota County Commission.
On Jan. 29, Carter previewed the department’s operational and capital needs for commissioners ahead of their Feb. 7 budget workshop. The goal of the workshop was to prepare commissioners for 2014 fiscal year budget decisions.
That included a discussion about the estimated $1.8 million SCAT will need to run a trolley route through Siesta Key and newly granted state funding.
But, the conversation quickly diverged into an inquisition from commissioners about the cost of bus shelters, which Carter said is between $30,000 and $40,000 for land easements, design and installation, and $4,000 for annual maintenance.
Carter said her goal was to install shelters at half of the 2,000 bus stops in the county throughout the next five years. The county currently maintains shelters at 138 stops — that’s less than 1%.
“That’s nuts,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson.
As chairwoman of the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization, Patterson has knowledge of other municipalities’ transit systems.
“We’d have shelters and no buses if we followed that as a plan,” Patterson said.
SCAT also estimates that it costs $6,000 on average to buy the land for bus shelters.
“I’m shocked at that,” said Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta about the shelter price.
Carter and recently hired managers from other municipalities pledged to analyze former employers’ best practices to determine a more efficient way to maintain shelters.
Commissioners approved an additional $339,000 in SCAT spending Jan. 29, to add nine new full-time positions, including an information technology position that pays $75,000 per year. SCAT will fund the other eight employees by bringing previously outsourced bus attendant and financial services in-house, according to the presentation.
SCAT officials also outlined a plan to purchase 59 buses throughout the next five years to aid an ailing fleet that will have 60% of its buses at, or past, their useful life span by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. That would cost $22.4 million, but avoid increases in operational costs from aging buses, Carter said.
“We are going to have to aggressively pursue the replacement of our buses to maintain the existing level of service,” Carter said.
During upcoming budget workshops, commissioners will continue discussions about the purchase of five buses for barrier island trolley routes, which include Siesta Key.
The Florida Department of Transportation has allocated about $1 million to fund operation of those routes for three years, but the county has to make a matching contribution and spend more than $700,000 for buses and drivers.
Freshman Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines lauded Carter and her staff for their frank discussion on SCAT’s budgetary needs. During a Dec. 7 retreat commissioners had highlighted the need for more straightforward staff presentations like SCAT’s.
“If I don’t know it’s broken then I can’t fix it,” Carter said. “So I appreciate all the feedback.”
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