RTA facing crucial air-and-ground service decisions at upcoming meeting

“Some hard choices are going to be made”

Everybody seems to be feeling the pinch in the current economic climate, and the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority is no exception. The RTA manages both air and ground transportation for the Gunnison Valley, and both of those programs will likely see budget and service adjustments in the near future.

 

 

 

On Friday, March 26 in Gunnison, the RTA will meet to pour through a lengthy agenda that will include discussions on the proposed Crested Butte South Park and Ride, next year’s air program, the 2011 budget, summer and winter ground transportation, and a proposed county-wide increase or equalization of the RTA sales tax. The financial report is on the agenda first and should set the tone.
One of the biggest changes and challenges for the RTA is that, due to a decline in their fund balance, they can no longer budget for a deficit. According to Gunnison Valley RTA executive director Scott Truex, “In the past we were able to budget for a deficit because we had a fund balance, but we don’t have that anymore. A few years ago we had a very healthy fund balance, in part because we didn’t have to pay the airline guarantees in full, because the revenues exceeded the minimum levels for the contracts, so we didn’t have to pay the full amount.”
Truex continued, “We built up a fund balance and we were able to expand the air and bus programs by budgeting to spend some of the fund balance.”
But declining sales tax revenues have taken a big bite of the RTA’s revenue stream. In addition, for a couple of years in a row the RTA has had to pay the full airline guarantees as specified in the minimum revenue guarantee contract. That money came out of the fund balance.
“We’re hit with the double-whammy,” Truex said. “We have drawn our fund balance down and our sales tax revenues are declining.”
Another crux is the timing of the air program budget. The RTA has to make decisions in the spring for the following winter, without knowing how next winter’s revenues will stack up.
Jonathon Houck, chairman of the RTA board, said, “It’s that hazy crystal ball… What are revenues looking like? When are they going to stabilize?”
“We have to make these decisions without knowing our revenues,” Truex explained. “In the past we’ve been conservative and budgeted flat. But flat isn’t working anymore. For example, when we made these air-service decisions a year ago we budgeted flat and anticipated flat revenues and that didn’t happen. We’ve already made our commitments to spend on air, which leaves less money for ground.” And RTA bus riders will likely see the implications of the deficit this summer.
“My recommendation [to the board] will be to run three round-trips this summer,” Truex said. “Last year we ran six; the year before we ran nine.”
Houck summed it up in a nutshell. “We have to maintain a fund balance, and some hard choices are going to be made. I’m confident that this board can make those decisions in an equitable manner in regards to ground and air, and in a way that benefits the citizens of Gunnison County.”

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