CHAMPAIGN — The governing board of the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District will vote in December on a proposal to raise the bus system's property tax levy by 3 percent, or $195,000, next year.
The MTD board will consider approving a $6.71 million property tax levy at its Dec. 5 meeting. That's up from $6.51 million this year.
While property taxes cover about one-sixth of the MTD's operating budget, the vast majority of its funding now comes from state operating grants.
In a preliminary vote Wednesday that set the amount to be raised by the tax levy, the board vote was 6-1. Only board member Linda Bauer of Urbana voted no.
"I would just observe that the funding climate, particularly at the state and federal level, does remain a concern for us," said board member Don Uchtmann, also of Urbana. "I think that one of the worst things we could do for our community would be not to move with incremental increases that would cause us to later levy a much higher tax increase because we haven't been moving incrementally.
"This (levy increase) would approximate the cost of living increase this year and I believe it could be supported as a modest increase."
MTD Managing Director Bill Volk said the increased property tax funds would help the transit system meet personnel-related costs.
"Seventy percent of our costs are in personnel so anytime we give any raises at all, or with increases in insurance or pension costs, we're going to need an increase," he said.
Also Wednesday the board approved a $150,000 contract with the Ratio architects, a national firm with a Champaign office, to undertake a study of expanding the 12-year-old Illinois Terminal building in downtown Champaign.
The study, to be completed by next September, will look at concepts for expanded transit facilities at the building, along with potential sources to help pay for them, including more office space, apartments and parking. In addition the study will look at other development opportunities in the neighborhood of the Illinois Terminal.
Also Wednesday, three more bus riders told the board that they are concerned about a plan to move to a system-wide "designated stops" plan next year. Currently, bus users board and leave buses at virtually any corner along a bus route.
But the MTD is looking at restricting bus stops after next August.
"What we are trying to do is as we have more riders, more disabled with wheelchairs, more people with strollers, it puts pressure on the schedule," Volk said. "And when you have pressure on the schedule and you can't keep your schedule, it gives you a couple of options. One, you can put on more equipment and slow down the bus. That is inefficient from the standpoint that it costs more to provide the same level of service. You're not increasing the frequency."
Second, he said, the MTD has tried to speed up its service with low-floor buses, stopping every other block on its campus-area routes and looking at the concept of designated stops.
"It's one of the ways that we can attempt to maintain the same trip times and keep our costs at a minimum," Volk said.