HART's Katharine Eagan, who runs the agency's Service Development Division, gave a detailed presentation to board members on the staff's recommendations. She said that there would be some reduction in current services - but fewer than 15 bus stops would be eliminated, and there would be no reduction of holiday or Sunday service (Correction: We initially posted that holiday and Sunday evening service would be cut - but that's only if the board had voted to maintain the .4682 millage rate. Instead, they agreed to raise it to .5, meaning those other cuts would not take effect).
There would be some reduction of employees through attrition, but there are no plans to eliminate any other workers.
Voting for an increase on ad valorem taxes is always a sensitive issue, and these days, it's become a third rail of sorts for Republicans. The only two votes on the board who voted no on the budget were the only two GOP elected officials, County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Mark Sharpe.
Their Democratic party colleague on the BOCC, Kevin Beckner, said he would proudly support the millage increase. He said that though he doesn't have kids in the school system, he understands fully why it's important that some of his taxes go to support public education, and said that was his same philosophy in terms of supporting HART, even though he doesn't utilize their services.
Looking for potentially new sources of revenue, Commissioner Murman suggested buses that would drop off sports fans who go to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg or to the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. But HART officials say that federal law prohibits that - later attorney Mary Ann Stiles suggested that the agency's lobbyist seek a waiver from the feds on that potential source of new revenue.
HART's interim CEO Philip Hale, who took over for David Armijo back in April, said one reason why the agency is facing this a tough budget situation is that is that it's been drawing off of reserves in recent years. "We've been kicking the can down the road," he said, sounding like members of Congress discussing Medicare and other daunting issues in the federal budget.
Board member Fran Davin noticed that there was no funds allocated in the budget for recruitment for a new CEO, prompting her to ask Hale if he was amenable to staying on for the next year or two.
"If you'll have me," he replied.
During her presentation Eagan scribbled down suggestions for possible ways to save money from other board members. John Byczek suggested cutting expenses withthe agency's health care program might turn up some savings. In addition to the plan paying 100 percent benefits for HART staffers, the plan also pays 70 percent for that staffer's family members who sign up on it.
Another proposal that was on the table was a 3.2 percent step pay increase for drivers and others with the Amalgamated Transit Union. Commissioner Murman said she was puzzled by that request, since it was in the same budget where staffing and services were being reduced. HART's Eagan said that a one year freeze on that step increase would be implemented, with the board's consent, which they obviously supported.
There is the chance that the budget could change by the time it must be voted on in late September. There will be pubic hearings in August.