CATS' projected revenue, spending up in 2015 as bus system expands service _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- A CATS bus passes by a bus stop.

The Capital Area Transit System board of directors approved a $27.7 million annual budget for 2015 on Tuesday afternoon that lays out continued plans for expansion the bus system has in store for the upcoming year.

The projected revenues for 2015 are up 12 percent over this year’s budget, thanks in large part to a projected boost of $1.6 million in the dedicated property tax revenue. The property tax, estimated to generate $17.3 million for 2015, was approved in 2012 by voters to breathe life into the bare-bones agency which always seemed to be on the verge of financial collapse.

CATS also expects to generate $1.6 million in fare box revenue in 2015, an increase of 7.5 percent over this year. Officials say they expect an increase in ridership due to route expansions.

On the expense side, CATS is increasing spending across the board. The agency is increasing its operations budget by 13 percent to $12.7 million. The increased spending will in part provide for 25 additional bus operators and mechanics to support the route expansion and other planned improvements.

The agency also plans on buying five replacement buses, at a total cost of $410,000 each, with a federal grant covering 85 percent of those costs, as well as 10 previously owned replacement buses. CATS is purchasing seven new vans for para-transit service, which is door-to-door pickup for disabled riders.

CATS is increasing its administrative budget by 13 percent to $2.6 million.

Before the CATS tax passed, the agency had a budget of about $12 million and was frequently criticized for wait times at bus routes exceeding an hour. The agency went after the tax with the promise that it would provide faster, more user-friendly service that would attract riders who have cars but want to take public transportation.

The new routes and expanded service were unveiled in April of this year, with the promise that more improvements would continue as the months went on.

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