The 2013 Whatcom Transportation Authority budget, which should be approved Thursday, Nov. 15, calls for deficit spending even as it projects improving sales tax revenue and a fare increase in the fall.
The transit agency is struggling to make ends meet as it faces a 20 percent increase in health benefits next year. It will operate at a $1.3 million loss next year, the same as 2012.
WTA staff is negotiating with union employees on a cost-saving solution - possibly switching to a state insurance pool. Out-of-control costs are part of the reason why the budget will grow by 7.6 percent next year, faster than projected revenues.
WTA's budget is supported by $21 million in cash reserves.
More than three-quarters of an anticipated $24.6 million in revenue in 2013 will come from sales tax. WTA officials are projecting a 3 percent increase in sales tax revenue compared to this year. In the first nine months of 2012, sales tax revenue is 4 percent higher than the same period a year ago.
Local agencies with authority to collect sales tax are benefiting from Canadian shoppers.
"We are among the more fortunate," said Patricia Dunn, director of finance. "Some transit agencies are below 2011 receipts."
A 25 percent fare increase, to $1.25 for a single ride, is proposed to lower the agency's deficit. The public will have a chance to comment on the fare change at community meetings and a formal public hearing, yet to be set.
The board of directors will vote on the 2013 budget at its next meeting, 8 a.m. Thursday at the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.