Will city’s transit plan slow down?

September 12, 2018

Expansion of Rochester’s city bus service could roll out slower than previously expected under the proposed 2019 budget.

Rochester City Council Member Michael Wojcik raised concerns Monday after noting some anticipated changes appear to be put off until at least 2020.

“There’s a disconnect in what the public is expecting and what the public knows right now,” he said, pointing to the city’s five-year transit development plan.

Under the plan, Wojcik said he expected to see more service expanded throughout the city in the coming year. Some of the expense is missing from the recommended $289.3 million budget for 2019.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said proposed implementation of the transit plan was modified to stay within anticipated budget constraints.

“We’re getting to the point where we are going to have to start considering the levy for the operations above and beyond some bus purchases and things that need to be done,” he said.

The proposed budget already calls for an 8.77 percent increase to the city’s property tax levy.

Tony Knauer, the city’s parking and transit manager, said none of that is paying for the reduced expansion proposed under the administrator’s budget.

The reduced expansion effort provides service seen today, as well as a planned crosstown service every seven minutes linking the city’s northwest park-and-ride location to Rochester Community and Technical College.

“That service is important to us,” he said, noting it was listed as the department’s top priority and can be implemented without replying on added property taxes.

The second priority, expansion of existing routes in areas throughout the city, isn’t included in the recommended budget, largely due to financial implications and the unknown status of future state funding, Knauer said.

“There is substantial levy involved with that,” he told the council, noting the picture could change once the state’s transportation funding plans are known.

The council, however, must set a maximum number for the city’s property tax levy next week. While the number can be reduced as budget talks continue, it cannot be raised once the preliminary levy is reported to the state.

Wojcik said that doesn’t leave much time to determine whether the proposed levy increase needs to be raised for expanded bus service, but Rymer said the process does allow some flexibility.

The final budget and tax levy will be approved in December.

“Ultimately, you’ll still have time — if the council chooses — to reprioritize any of these areas,” he said.

The city administrator also said ongoing efforts to forecast expenses will help anticipate concerns for future budgets, especially for programs with planned expenses spread over several years.

“When you have these multi-year approvals of a major plan, we need to be able to bring forward sustainable financing or trade offs that will go on,” he said.

The council will continue reviewing the recommended budget next week, concentrating on $95 million in proposed capital-improvement projects.

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