Efficiencies, tax transfers and fare increases proposed to reduce potential service cuts
StoryMembers of the Metropolitan King County Council said today the best approach to reducing the projected $213 million deficit facing Metro Transit is to implement a wide range of measures to fill the shortfall.
Implementing the findings of an audit of Metro, transferring property tax revenues from the King County Ferry District, living within the 1/10th of one percent sales tax for the voter-approved Transit Now initiative, reducing discretionary services, implementing yearly fare increases and charging Seattle a higher rate for the downtown Ride Free Area are some of the measures proposed by Councilmembers Reagan Dunn, Julia Patterson, Kathy Lambert and Pete von Reichbauer.
The plan unveiled today would reduce cuts in bus service from a projected 20 percent to approximately 4 to 6 percent.
“These are not political gimmicks,” said Councilmember Dunn, Chair of the Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight (GAO) Committee. “These are hard policy choices that we have considered over a period of months. This plan will limit service cuts to a minimal level, while keeping faith with voters who adopted Transit Now.”
Among the proposals is one to charge the city of Seattle a more reasonable rate for the benefit it receives from Metro’s downtown Ride Free Area, which carries more than 10 million riders per year. Seattle currently pays Metro $400,000 a year to offset the lost fares Metro would collect. Councilmembers called for a renegotiation of the interlocal agreement with Seattle to recover the real cost of providing that service.
“I am committed to fulfilling King County’s promise to all of our residents, which means retaining the integrity of voter-approved Transit Now by ending our subsidy to Seattle’s Free Ride area,” said Councilmember Patterson. “During this financial crisis we cannot continue to provide benefit to Seattle residents, at the expense of the rest of the region.”
“This is a comprehensive approach to address Metro’s funding crisis as painlessly as possible,” said Councilmember Lambert. “Voters cannot afford more taxes right now. We are committed to finding efficiencies at Metro and making the hard choices to keep the buses rolling.”
The plan also calls for elimination of the Lake Washington demonstration routes from the King County Ferry District, a move that would free up approximately $13 million for bus service on State Route 520 and additional revenue to close the Metro deficit.
“Now is not the time for costly experiments,” said Councilmember von Reichbauer. “In the face of cuts to public safety and efficient transit, new ferry routes are not a priority.”
Councilmembers also called for full implementation of findings from the King County Auditor, who in May uncovered a one-time reserve of as much as $105 million more in Metro’s fleet replacement fund than is needed for replacement of Metro buses. The Auditor is also working on an audit of Metro’s service delivery, which is scheduled to be released at the Council’s GAO Committee meeting on September 1.
Other aspects of the plan include:
• Fare increases of an additional 25 cents each year for the next four years,
• Living within the 1/10th of one percent sales tax approved by voters in 2006 in their adoption of Transit Now,
• Reducing discretionary services such as frequent bus washing and transit marketing, and
• Reducing Metro’s funding for the Director’s office in the King County Department of Transportation.
The King County Council will consider the proposals as part of its annual budget deliberations starting in September.