UTA Board Approves 2015 Operating Budget

(UTA Press Release) At its regular meeting Dec. 17, the Board of Trustees for the Utah Transit Authority gave its seal of approval to the 2015 operating budget. 

Board members commented favorably on the approval process and the public comment received.

The new budget adds holiday service on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. UTA’s budget is formulated each year with guidance from the board. Board member Keith Bartholomew noted at the recent meeting that further study for additional service is already underway. "We are very serious at looking at late-night service, and weekend service and holiday service. We want to look at it from a systematic approach," said Bartholomew.

The final UTA budget document can be viewed in its entirety at:

http://www.rideuta.com/uploads/2015GOALS_PACKET_FINAL.pdf

Similarly to how UTA trains must keep to a schedule, UTA's budgeting process has also operated on a tight timeline. Final projections first had to be arrived at by a staff of accounting professionals. Once the numbers were checked, public comment on the budget was gathered online and at public hearings throughout the month of November.

Ridership is at record levels for UTA and requests for additional service continue to rise, so public interest in the agency has never been higher. Scrutiny of UTA’s budget is encouraged as it provides a window into the public’s view on how the agency balances meeting long-term fiscal stewardship responsibilities, long-term debt commitments and capital needs to bring more service to the Wasatch Front.

The total $347.2 million operating budget breaks down broadly in this way: operation expenses account for 62 percent of the total, while debt service accounts for 29 percent, and administrative and other costs make up the final 9 percent.

The money needed to operate an award-winning, multi-modal transit agency like UTA comes from a variety of sources. Sales tax revenue is projected at $221.3 million, or 64 percent of total revenues, representing the largest funding source for the 2015 budget. Federal operating grants and passenger revenues are $52.5 million and $51.1 million respectively, and those amounts comprise 30 percent of the operating revenues. Other various revenues total $22.3 million.

UTA officials say they use a budgeting process that looks well into the future and that allows it to sometimes tap into reserve funds when overall economic conditions warrant or for long range capital projects. The 2015 budget does that to a small degree, but the agency still maintains at least $100 million in reserves.

UTA stays on the firmest financial footing by looking ahead. The 2015 budget will set aside $4.4 million to create new reserves for fuel and parts, both areas within the budget that can generate fiscal volatility. Creation of these reserves underscores the agency’s efforts to proactively gain an upper hand over unpredictable price swings.

The agency’s budget planners say they use conservative financial projections and models, and one needs to look no further than the national ratings agencies for evidence of UTA’s long-term fiscal health. UTA earlier this year submitted its financial plan to these national rating firms for review and received a positive response—UTA’s budgeting procedures were sufficiently sound to earn a credit upgrade.