PSTA approves tentative millage rate and budget

PSTA’s Chief Financial Officer Debbie Leous talked to the Board of Director’s about the agencies finances Sept. 11 during the first of two public hearings on next year’s budget.

ST. PETERSBURG — Eight of 15 Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the tentative millage rate and budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 during a first public hearing on Sept. 11.

County commissioner and board chair Janet Long was absent, as were county commissioners Dave Eggers and Pat Gerard. Also absent were Clearwater Councilmember David Allbritton, Largo Commissioner Samantha Fenger, Dunedin Commissioner Heather Gracy and Oldsmar Councilmember Dan Saracki.

The second and final public hearing is on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 6 p.m., at PSTA Headquarters, 3201 Scherer Drive, St. Petersburg.

Staff proposes to keep the millage rate unchanged at 0.7500 mills, which is the maximum allowed. That rate is a 6.75% increase over the rollback rate of 0.7026 mills. The rollback rate would provide the same revenue as the current year, which is not enough to pay for increasing expenses.

The tentative budget of $132.5 million includes an operating budget of $85.3 million and a capital and transfers budget of $47.1 million. PSTA has a fleet of 210 buses, which operate on 40 routes.

Chief Financial Officer Debbie Leous told directors that the earlier forecast that PSTA would need to take $1.5 million from reserves to balance next year’s budget was no longer true. Instead, the agency will need to take only $250,000 from reserves.

She said savings had been found in several areas, including procurement. Job openings were held open longer. The maintenance department was able to increase the miles on the buses, and due to employees becoming certified, PSTA was not having to outsource maintenance work.

In addition, she had been able to “lock in” a cheaper price for diesel fuel. In June, she had negotiated a price of $2.30 a gallon, but the new price is $1.885.

She highlighted some of PSTA’s accomplished, including a forecasted savings of nearly $1.5 million, putting electric buses into service, increase in mobility on demand rides, implementing Healthy Hop in Tarpon Springs and continued work on the Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit project.

The three top capital expenditures planned for 2020 include installing operator safety shields. Leous said the first one would be installed in October. The second top expenditure would be construction of the rapid transit project and the third is a transit-oriented development study.

Leous said PSTA would continue to stay focused on providing service to the community and its customers while providing for its employees.

She praised the collaboration with PSTA partners, including county government, Forward Pinellas, Florida Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority and the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

She described 2019 as the “year of collaboration.”

“We had a lot of meetings with our partners,” she said.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.