Island Transit board OKs $15 million budget, preps for 2016 fares

The Island Transit board of directors adopted a $15 million budget this week that is significantly healthier than last year, when officials were forced to borrow money, lay off staff and cut routes to make ends meet.

The agency’s return to fiscal health was precipitated by a stabilization plan adopted by the board this year in the wake of the financial fiasco, largely the result of a lack of oversight and the costs of the new facility near Coupeville.

But more changes are necessary, according to Interim Director Ken Graska.

The board will hold a workshop in January at which time it’s likely members will institute the first fares in Island Transit’s history, according to Graska. The board will decide whether to restart the 412 route between Camano Island and Everett, which will be funded by a state grant.

The proposal, said Graska, is to install fare boxes on the routes that run outside of Island County, specifically the 412 route and two 411 routes, which run between Whidbey Island and Skagit and between Mount Vernon and Camano Island.

The board is still in the process of analyzing system-wide fares; the budget does not depend on fares as revenue.

As part of the stabilization plan, the agency is hiring a consultant next month to review the salaries for non-represented employees in order to address disparities in pay. That covers administrative assistants, dispatchers, managers and others.

Oak Harbor City Councilman Rick Almberg, the chairman of the transit board, said salaries for those employees are “all over the place.”

“Some people, I’m told, are getting substantial compensation packages and others are low compared to their counterparts,” he said.

Graska explained that salaries and job descriptions have not been looked at for many years, resulting in the current disparities. Nobody’s salaries will be cut but some employees might see a salary freeze.

“Some people will get raises,” Almberg said, “And some people won’t get a raise until time catches up with them.”

The agency is in the process of negotiating with the newly formed union that represents drivers and others.

The 2016 budget predicts about $1.4 million in ending general operating cash, which is essentially money in the bank. Operating expenses are budgeted at nearly $11 million, an increase of $600,000 over the predicted 2015 operating expenses.

Capital expenses are budgeted at $4 million in 2016, an $800,000 increase over this year. Much of that will be funded by grants the agency received from the state for 13 new buses, 12 new vanpool vans and other expenses.

Monday, board members emphasized that the budget was very conservative and cautious.

“I have a lot of confidence in this as a budget framework for the next year,” Langley Councilman Jim Sundberg said.