The Denton County Transportation Authority is projecting a decrease in both bus and rail ridership during the 2021 fiscal year due to impact of COVID-19.
Bus ridership is expected to decrease by 53% and rail ridership is expected to decrease by 41% as the organization budgets amid the pandemic.
The projections and other figures pertaining to the budget for the 2021 fiscal year were presented during a DCTA board meeting on Thursday.
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DCTA’s total operating revenue comes from its buses, rails, and contract service, and it is projected at $1.4 million less for 2021, mainly due to the impact of the pandemic, DCTA said. The operating revenue is projected to decrease from $5.2 million in the 2020 working budget to $3.8 million in the proposed 2021 budget.
According to DCTA, total operating expenses are projected to decrease by nearly $1 million, but total non-operating revenue is set to increase from $37.1 million to $48.5 million because of projected increases in federal grant and sales tax revenue.
DCTA said that during 2020, post-outbreak sales tax income has been low, but it projects increases in that area. Sales tax revenue makes up 50.1% of the projected $53.1 million total revenue in 2021, DCTA said.
According to Marisa Perry, Chief Financial Officer for DCTA, measures have been taken for both 2020 and 2021 to account for the impact of the pandemic. These measures include modified service levels, reduced non-essential expenses, and several furloughs and position eliminations from March to June.
According to DCTA, however, many of the furloughed employees have begun to be hired back.
Board members will vote to formally adopt the budget during next month’s meeting.
The board meeting on Thursday also included discussion on refinancing DCTA’s outstanding debt totaling $25.2 million in principal and $31 million with interest, DCTA said.
According to DCTA, Laura Alexander, a representative of Hilltop Securities, provided the board with two options, one of which was a uniform savings option that would decrease payments by approximately $200,000 per year and end in 2029. This option would end earlier and save a total of $1.8 million.
The other option was an extended-level option, which would decrease yearly payments by roughly $600,000 but result in million-dollar-plus payments from 2030 to 2032. This option would offer greater flexibility to issue additional debt, but it would also result in a longer payment period and only $1.1 million total savings.
DCTA said board members had mixed opinions on the options. Chair Dianne Costa supported the extended level option, but member and outgoing Denton Mayor Chris Watts favored the uniform savings option.
Based on a suggestion from member Sam Burke, the board agreed that Hilltop Securities should approach banks with both options and allow the board to choose, DCTA said.
“I can’t imagine, even if we don’t have 100% answers at that point, that we wouldn’t be in a better position than we are today,” Burke said. “I have a difficult time imagining myself voting against reducing our debt … I’m going to vote for one of those things.”
Board members also approved COVID-19 pay for North Texas Mobility Corp. non-operators and frontline DCTA staff, meaning that a total of $85,000 will be paid to 53 employees. The pay will be applied based on work conducted March 22 through May 30.