By Joel Hall
The Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority's (MARTA's) top executive will speak before the Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) today to layout what needs to be done to ensure the continued operation of C-TRAN, the county's bus service.
During tonight's regularly scheduled business meeting, MARTA General Manager and CEO Beverly Scott will address budget shortfalls in the county's C-TRAN service, which MARTA has been operating under contract since October 2007.
Scott said that without any adjustment to routes, or fares, the bus service will "run out of money in the next nine-and-a-half months."
"We've got a pretty serious situation," she said. "Literally, the budget that was adopted by the county was lower than [the cost of] the service. Right now, we are spending more money than we have in the bank. This year's annual budget was about $7.9 million. What looks to be actually budgeted was $7.4 million, but it was based on some revenue sources that were flawed. It looks like there was $1.2 million to $1.5 million that was under-budgeted for this service."
Scott said that because C-TRAN receives funding from the Federal Transition Administration, MARTA cannot "unilaterally" alter C-TRAN operations without the BOC first engaging the public in a series of hearings about any proposed changes.
She said MARTA will be "calling strongly" for public hearings to discuss route changes and fare increases. "We're running a burn rate that I know, full well at MARTA, is in excess of what there are dollars to support," she said.
"What we are saying [to the BOC], in the most urgent of terms, is that we need direction from the county as to what they want us to do in terms of running the service. Every month that it is delayed means that you have to cut more service," she said.
BOC Vice Chairman Wole Ralph said the board has yet to address C-TRAN expenditures within the context of the county's fiscal year budget. "The chairman's budget contemplated about a $1.5 million adjustment to MARTA's revenue," Ralph said. "He [Bell] said that he would achieve a $1 million revenue enhancement by raising fares.
"MARTA has come back to the board and said that even if we raise the fare, they don't believe it will generate $1 million. The chairman's budget also indicated about a half-million-dollar reduction in the routes, which hasn't been implemented, yet, and we're already halfway through the year.
"For me, this is my first opportunity to hear from MARTA on what our C-TRAN service should look like, given the budget," he said.
BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said he has tried to have MARTA address the BOC about the operations of C-TRAN for months. While Scott's presentation will not consist of a public hearing, Bell said he encourages members of the public to voice their opinions during the public comment portion of the meeting.
"I've had it on the agenda for several months now, and each time, we have delayed it," Bell said. "C-TRAN is much-needed. I want it to be an open and public discussion about the survival of C-TRAN. We are at a crossroads, and we must make some critical decisions."
The meeting is tonight at 7 p.ms., at the Clayton County Administration Building, located at 112 Smith Street in Jonesboro.