January 9, 2012

TriMet Twitter town hall to tackle budget

For the first time, Portland, Ore.-based TriMet's GM Neil McFarlane will host a Twitter town hall and answer questions from the public on the agency's Fiscal Year 2013 budget.

The Jan. 12 Twitter town hall is part of a comprehensive outreach effort to hear from the public on the agency's FY 2013 budget which includes a $12 to $17 million shortfall. Part of the outreach effort includes an online worksheet, "Challenges & Choices – a Budget Discussion Guide" (trimet.org/choices). The interactive guide lets the community weigh in on potential fare increases and service cuts to help close the budget gap. Since its mid-December launch, about 2,500 people have provided feedback and ideas.

The Twitter town hall will be from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and use the hashtag #askneil. McFarlane will be responding to as many budget questions as possible during the chat using the @talktrimet account. Only one question per person will be answered to allow for maximum participation. For additional information on how to participate or follow the discussion, visit trimet.org/askneil.

The agency will also hold open houses in February to receive additional feedback.

TriMet launched the FY 2013 budget process in late October, three months ahead of schedule, to have more time to develop options to deal with the budget shortfall, which is part of the agency's operating budget that begins July 1, 2012. TriMet's FY12 operating budget is about $400 million.
With employment and wage growth stagnant, TriMet expects to receive about $3 million less in payroll tax revenues than previously anticipated.
TriMet receives $40 million to $45 million in federal funds for annual preventive maintenance. There is significant uncertainty in the federal budget, including the continuation of that funding level. TriMet is estimating a cut of $4 million.

TriMet is working to bring the union contract in line with its revenue growth and make it consistent with other transit/government employers. The contract has been expired for two years, and is mired in delays caused by union appeals. The parties are now heading to interest arbitration scheduled for March 2012. This results in a $5 to $10 million addition to the FY13 budget shortfall. The shortfall grows significantly in future years unless union health care costs and other contract issues are reformed.

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