Westport Transit District officials are proposing a 2013-14 budget that would return the town's transit spending close to its 2011 level, while expressing confidence that they can avoid the contention that overshadowed town officials' review last year of the transit budget.
The town's two transit directors, Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cederbaum, have submitted to First Selectman Gordon Joseloff an approximately $279,000 spending request for the next fiscal year, which would raise spending by about 13 percent over the current $248,000 budget. The proposed budget would use $23,000 of the new expenditures for marketing to raise public awareness of local transit services.
"I'm optimistic that the developments over this last year are going to resonate very well with the town funding bodies because this budget is responsive to their concerns," Cederbaum said Wednesday. "We've listened to what they said and took their concerns and suggestions very seriously. This budget will reflect that."
If approved, the proposed transit budget would almost match the $280,000 allocation that the transit district received from the town during the 2010-11 fiscal year. It would keep spending essentially flat for both fixed routes and door-to-door service and maintain all of the routes and services now provided by the town's public bus network. It would not add any new routes next year.
The proposed budget comprises the first spending plan drafted by Johnson and Cederbaum, who were both voted in to their transit posts in August 2012 by the Representative Town Meeting. As transit directors, Johnson and Cederbaum serve as the principal policymakers for the town's public transit system.
The proposed budget will now be reviewed by First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who submits a proposed municipal budget each year to the Board of Finance and RTM. That prospective municipal spending plan includes transit district funding.
Transit spending emerged last year as a divisive issue last year when the Board of Finance slashed $114,000 from the transit district's proposed $248,000 budget. Finance board members criticized the transit network's management and ridership levels, but their arguments failed to persuade many commuter shuttle riders. Scores of commuters turned out at a finance board meeting a few weeks later to advocate overturning the $114,000 reduction.
The Board of Finance instead decided to restore about $54,000 to the transit budget. About a month later, the RTM approved full restoration of the transit district's proposed $248,000 allocation.
Since then, a number of town commuters have continued their transportation advocacy. In July 2012, Joseloff appointed the Citizens Transit Committee, a group composed mainly of commuters, which studies the town's public transit system and makes recommendations intended to improve the transportation network's services and value.
At a meeting Wednesday, committee members expressed their backing for the proposed 2013-14 transit budget.
"I think this could be a new era for the transit district," said Citizens Transit Committee Chairman Jim Ross. "I think we have a great opportunity."
With the backing of the Citizens Transit Committee and other supporters of the town's public transit system, Johnson and Cederbaum say they are hopeful that finance board members will be more receptive this year of the proposed transit budget.
"There are a lot of people who want an alternative to sitting in traffic and want an alternative to get from point A to point B," Johnson said Wednesday. "I think we can get an engaged, educated dialogue going now. It's exciting."
To raise the transit district's profile, Johnson and Cederbaum are seeking to create a page for the transit network on the town's website, which would include schedules and route maps.
Westport's transit network includes several commuter shuttle routes running to and from the town's two Metro-North train stations, after-school buses and door-to-door buses for senior citizens and disabled passengers. The Norwalk Transit District has managed Westport's public transportation system since 1992.
Most of the transit district's funding comes from the state Department of Transportation, with the DOT contributing about $750,000 to the transit district for the current fiscal year.
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WESTPORT TRANSIT FUNDING
Town allocation: $248,000 (2012-13); $279,000 (proposed)
DOT allocation: $746,000 (2012-13); $767,000 (proposed)
Passenger fares: $143,000 (2012-13); $148,000 (proposed)
Total funding: $1,137,000 (2012-13); $1,194,000 (proposed)
* SOURCE: Westport Transit District