By Phil Raschke, Lakewood
I like Pierce Transit. What I don’t like is their huge operating expenses underwritten by taxpayers.
The recent Pierce Transit mailer “Proposition 1 Facts and Info” notes only 17% of their costs are covered by fares. Nearly 80% of their budget comes from you and me through the local sales tax and other taxes. While they say they can’t operate in the black due to the economic downturn, they continue to award million dollar annual raises to their employees with the next one scheduled for this coming July 2011.
According to a recent News Tribune story, Pierce Transit wages grew $6.7 million or 13% from 2007 to 2009 while sales tax revenue fell $40 million. The News Tribune also says median earnings for the agency’s transit operators in 2009 was $58,889. With overtime, some made over $90,000.
What about benefits? The News Tribune reported Pierce Transit employees only pay $110 toward the $1,375 monthly cost of a family health plan. This comes to $15,000 added cost per employee plus 35 paid days of holiday, sick leave and vacation.
Additionally, senior managers make over $110,000 and entry Level I mechanics start at $22.67 an hour plus benefits.
Also, a $1.7 million cost of living increase was given in 2010. By 2015, overall employee compensation is projected to rise nearly 40%.
The Seattle Times reported Pierce Transit drivers are paid more money than drivers in Newark, NJ, Pittsburgh, PA and Minneapolis, MN!
Now Pierce Transit says it just raised fares to $2.00 with free transfers. They don’t mention, however, that they didn’t raise fares on the Pierce Shuttle fleet. A one person door to door ride on your own personal Pierce Shuttle cost only $1.50 round trip. No wonder they lose money.
The Pierce Transit mailer also states the proposed tax increase is only 3 cents on a $10 purchase. This could easily average $75 to $90 or more per taxpayer, however, and a News Tribune editorial indicates Pierce Transit is sitting on millions in cash reserves, but doesn’t want to spend them.
If Pierce Transit can’t close its budget gap with current revenue and cash reserves, perhaps additional fare increases, reduced routing during non-peak, low passenger hours or temporary benefit reductions should be taken before asking taxpayers for more money.
Personally, I am feeling a little tapped out lately. How about you?