Monday, June 16, 2008

Council looking to restore $1 million to MTA

By MICHAEL CASS • Staff Writer (Tennessean)• June 16, 2008 The Metro Council is poised to restore $1 million to the Metro Transit Authority's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, a move that would save some public bus routes from the chopping block. Councilman Erik Cole, chairman of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, said the substitute budget the council plans to vote on Tuesday night would reflect the high priority the council is placing on public transportation at a time of bruising increases in gas prices. "It would be a terrible year to send a signal that we didn't care about public transportation," Cole said. MTA's board voted last month to raise bus fares and eliminate seven routes to help make up a $2.9 million shortfall driven by spikes in the cost of diesel fuel. Mayor Karl Dean's budget proposal for the year starting July 1 would cut MTA's funding by $400,000 even as the authority said it needed $2.5 million more than it's getting this year. Dean, who planned to increase funding to public schools and not much else in a tight fiscal year, has said he wishes he could have done more for MTA. Paul Ballard, MTA's chief executive, said the authority would wait to see the final numbers approved by the council before announcing the routes it would restore. "But it's good news," Ballard said. "It's great news." Any shift in budget funds comes with a cost, however. Cole said the $1 million would come from an assortment of "administrative accounts and contingency funds," including money set aside to help some Metro departments relocate before a capital funding shortage forced the city to reconsider those plans. The mayor's office, the council office and the Metro Arts Commission also would see their funding reduced somewhat beyond what the mayor proposed, Cole said. "We really wanted to demonstrate that we could spread out the impact," he said. The $1 million includes $200,000 Dean had already committed to MTA, Ballard said. Those funds would let MTA continue serving Metro magnet school students, who don't receive transportation from the school district. The council's Budget and Finance Committee meets at 4 p.m. today in the council chamber at the Metro Courthouse. The full council meets Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

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