Spending falls slightly in MTD budget plan

CHAMPAIGN - Spending will be down slightly within the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District as transportation officials plan to act on a "maintenance budget" for the coming year.

The MTD board is holding a public hearing on its budget and appropriation ordinance at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave., C.

The board will be acting on a $21.3 million spending plan for the year beginning July 1, down from $21.7 million for the current year.

"There are no major increases in services or expenditures. It's pretty much a maintenance budget," said MTD Managing Director Bill Volk. "We are fortunate that in comparison with other government-assisted programs, our funding sources haven't been cut."

Absent from the budget is any significant money for further investigation of a trolley system. The MTD will pay its consultant, Washington Infrastructure Services, about another $150,000 as the balance of its $497,000 contract for an analysis of alternatives for a fixed guideway system that would supplant the bus system in the core of the city. A recommendation is expected to be forthcoming later this year.

"Since we're not there yet, there's not anything in the budget for that project now," said Assistant Managing Director Tom Costello.

Other significant changes at the MTD have already been paid for or approved by the board. That includes the $2.5 million renovation to the district's bus maintenance facility. Also in the current year, the district paid for 33 new buses to replace 1984 models. Twenty-eight of those have been delivered and five more will be delivered in August, giving the district a fleet of 95 buses that all look the same, Costello said.

The district is also completing $1.5 million worth of renovations to the old Motorola building next to the MTD headquarters on East University Avenue. Volk said they hope to move in operations and administrative offices in July. The district is leasing the 50,000-square-foot building on 6.2 acres for five years for $960,000 a year, with the intention of buying it at the expiration of that lease, Volk said.

The MTD is currently leasing 10,000 square feet to Carle Foundation Hospital for its information technology needs and is negotiating about the lease of another 10,000 to 15,000 square feet to Carle. The MTD will use about 25,000 square feet to replace crowded and outdated space it is in now, Volk said.

Other highlights of the spending plan include $75,000 for a passenger platform shelter on the east side of Wright Street between John and Daniel streets, and $25,000 for a bus shelter at the new Champaign County Courthouse plaza in Urbana.

The MTD is also in the process of replacing its radio system with a new global positioning system that will enable the district to identify exactly where its buses are at all times. The system will be incorporated with LED displays at major boarding points that tell passengers exactly how long it will be before buses arrive and depart.

On the revenue side, Volk said no major changes are anticipated. The district's tax levy, limited by tax caps, will rise about 3 percent to just over $4 million. Its main source of funding is $9.8 million in operating assistance funds from the Illinois Department of Transportation.

There should be a slight rise in student fee revenue. Students pay a $33-per-semester fee that provides them unlimited use of the MTD. Student enrollment is projected to increase by 500 students this fall and 500 again in fall 2004.

You can reach Phil Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at bloomer@news-gazette.com.

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