UTA passes budget, despite objection from N.O. Mayor Brent Taylor

Tuesday , December 19, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Transit Authority’s budget passed Monday, but not without a vocal objection from one of the agency’s board members.

North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor was the lone dissenting voice in a 10-1 vote to pass UTA’s final 2018 budget. Taylor said he was displeased with the “overall nature” of the financial plan.

• RELATED: UTA finishes reforms to executive pay, but retirement perk raises questions

Prior to Monday’s vote, the mayor said he compared the 2018 budget with the budget passed five years ago. Taylor said 2018’s total operational expenditures are about $98 million more than they were in 2013. 

During the same five-year period, service-wide passenger revenues only increased by about $400,000 — less than 1 percent growth, Taylor said. At the same time, UTA is taking on about $88 million in new debt.

The new expenditures are possible, Taylor said, largely because UTA has higher tax revenues from sales taxes and Proposition 1 funds. The 2015 Prop 1 ballot initiative provides UTA and counties that approved it with money for new projects annually.

“I don’t feel like that is a sustainable model,” he said. “If we have $98 million more to spend, we should be putting it into these capital projects. I’d rather put these new, higher revenues into items that are creating this new debt, or to retire existing debt.”

The mayor said the proposed Ogden Bus Rapid Transit project is an example of where UTA should be shifting their spending focus.

• RELATED: Resolution on how to fund Ogden BRT project proving difficult

UTA, Ogden City, Weber County and Weber State University are looking to raise about $26 million to contribute to the estimated $75 million BRT project, which would run between Ogden’s Intermodal Transit Center, WSU and the McKay-Dee Hospital. Taylor is against a pending county contribution of $6 million for the project and is instead urging UTA to foot that bill. 

During Monday’s meeting, the mayor said he also wants the board to spend more time on the budget and be more involved with the details.

Board member and Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn said many things come into play when crafting a budget and a number of outside factors can impact ridership numbers, like the overall health of the economy and the price of fuel.

But Millburn did say he’d be interested in spending more time on the budget, hoping to find balance between being more connected and “(not) micromanaging.”

• RELATED: Funding the Ogden BRT: UTA says Prop 1 money likely off the table

UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said the period of time Taylor used for his analysis came after completion of a major capital construction program in 2015 and the agency experienced a large ridership increase in the five-year period prior to the one Taylor analyzed.

Benson said “moving targets” like the Prop 1 initiative have caused some revenue uncertainty, but UTA will now be able to develop five-year service plans for every sector in the agency. He said he’s confident UTA will realize ridership increases in the near future.

“We’re at a point right now we need to make sure the whole system is optimally designed,” he said.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/MitchShaw.StandardExaminer.

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