The Coast RTA board approved its 2016 budget — its first under new CEO Brian Piascik — that includes three additional months to shift the start of the agency’s fiscal year and allow it more time to figure out annual local funding.
The move should not impact services or staffing because the transit plans to use money allocated for 2017 in its 2016 budget.
Piascik crafted his first budget for Coast after a month-long crash course on Coast’s finances, and without a chief financial officer, who resigned the day he was hired, or operating officer, who was also no longer with the company shortly after his arrival. He encouraged Coast’s board to hire a former colleague of his from the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency as Coast’s temporary chief financial officer until a new one is found by August.
Coast’s $5.02 million 2016 budget includes buying the final five buses of a 10-bus deal it struck with Dallas this month, adding three new paratransit vehicles, re-allocating $180,000 for an intermodal transportation feasibility study, and even allows for $550,000 in available funds at the end of June 2016. That available funding, combined with projected commitments for 2017 from local government agencies, will help Coast adjust its budget year from starting July 1 annually to starting Oct. 1.
“We have July, August, which is higher level of service, this year, then we’ll have June, July, August and a piece of September next year,” Piascik said. “So we typically have 3 1/2 months of higher services, and we’re actually going to have five months of higher service. Tacking on a fifth quarter is really tacking on an additional 31 percent to 2016.”
Piascik said it will take $1.4 million to operate those three months next year, and the biggest reason he wants to change it is because the counties and the cities make their decisions in June on how much they’re going to give Coast.
“June, for us, is wanting to establish our budget as well as listen to them establish their budget and how much money they’re going to give us,” Piascik said. “So, by moving to an October start date, we can focus on telling them why we need the amount of money that we need, and then have them approve their budget July 1, and then go through our budgeting process over the summer.
“We’ve got a number of contingencies in the budget where if we don’t have to use it, we’ll have more money at the end of the year,” Piascik said, adding those contingencies include savings in the operation and maintenance funds. “So, the idea really is to minimize how much we’re borrowing from ourselves from [fiscal year 20]17 to kind of cover that.”
Piascik said it will take strong effort from the board’s finance committee to make the change in budget possible.
“It will be a pretty dynamic process over the course of a year,” Piascik said. “I think the finance committee is going to be needed on a pretty regular basis as we try to push funds into that three-month extension the best we can.”
The budget also includes a feasibility study for an intermodal center, which will be a third attempt at the measure. In 2010, Coast RTA began exploring an Intermodal Transportation Center and eventually initiated a $250,000 feasibility study with Canadian-based Stantec Consulting. The center would serve as a hub for such modes of transportation as Coast RTA, biking and Greyhound. In June 2013, as the study was well underway, Coast RTA was ordered by the Federal Highway Administration to stop the study because it did not meet certain federal requirements, including having the local match funds on hand. Stantec had billed Coast RTA $73,386.14 for work it had already done before the project was stopped.
Coast RTA is liable for a little more than $44,000 of that and the S.C. Department of Transportation will pick up the remainder. It will also be liable for $37,500 of the projected $175,000 remainder for the study.
Horry County Councilman Mark Lazarus said council does not have to approve the change in Coast RTA’s fiscal year, and actually supports the move.
“It’s hard to budget until you know exactly what you have,” Lazarus said. “They’ve been having to budget and then, sometimes, change their budget... If they set their budget in October, it makes sense to me.”
The county gives the transit a little more than $1 million annually, and Piascik said he would like to put part of the county’s contribution in the bank this year, “and use it for next year, just like we do with the federal dollars,” he said.
“That way, it’s a little bit cleaner and safer way to do your budgeting,” Piascik said. “You know how much money you have, and you’re not budgeting based on how much you think you’re going to get. It will take us a few years until we have a budget for the whole 12 months.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or on Twitter @TSN_JRodriguez.