Ozark Regional Transit approves $3 million budget, considers ad revenue to boost wages

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 108 views 

Board members for Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit approved a $3.35 million budget for 2019 on Thursday (Dec. 13) and received an update on items they discussed in a previous meeting.

Previously, board members wanted to see a breakdown of employment expenses and to offer more than 2% salary increases for its nearly 60 employees.

Executive Director Joel Gardner reiterated a 2% salary increase was what the transit provider could afford and was open to options to increase wages. The 2019 budget includes a 2% wage increase for employees.

Peter Nierengarten, who represents Fayetteville on the board, said he would like to see additional ad revenue be used to boost salaries.

The 2019 budget includes $60,000 for ad revenue, which is flat from 2018 projections. Expected revenue from companies that use the buses for advertising would be between $300,000 and $360,000 if ORT were to have all 20 buses wrapped 100% in ads, Gardner said. Based on a contract with Springdale-based The Mullikin Agency, 50% of the revenue would go to the ad agency and the rest to ORT. However, ORT won’t have all 20 buses until March. It ordered 12 diesel-powered buses on Sept. 14 from Creative Bus Sales, and will use a $3.6 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to pay for them.

Starting salaries for ORT drivers and technicians are $10.50 and $12.25 per hour, respectively. Gardner said a starting wage of $13.50 per hour for drivers is needed to remain competitive. Starting wage for full-time bus drivers at Razorback Transit is $14.15 per hour and $16.91 for Springdale Public Schools, according to ORT documents. Full-time drivers for Backus Concrete and Waste Management start at $18 and $18.50 hourly, respectively.

ORT staff completed a breakdown of salaries and a survey of similar-sized transit providers and sent it to board members before the meeting Thursday. As of Dec. 1, the transit provider had 48 drivers and operators, 11 maintenance workers and eight administrative staff. Driver and operations expenses account for 49% of the budget; vehicle maintenance expenses, 27%; and administrative expenses, 24%.

The latter expenses include ORT personnel for human resources, payroll, and risk management and safety and an attorney. Transit providers that ORT surveyed, including Oklahoma State University (OSU) and Las Cruces, N.M., have similar administrative services provided by the city or university, and aren’t included in the transit providers’ administrative expenses. OSU’s administrative expenses are 15% of the budget, while Las Cruces’ are 12%.

Also in the previous meeting, board member Don Marr of Fayetteville was concerned about building a reserve in case ORT didn’t receive the expected revenue from charter services. Gardner said ORT has historically received revenue from the charter services, and in 2019, the budget shows charter revenue of $75,000. Net income related to the charter services for Razorback football games in 2018 was more than $22,000. Total expenses to offer the service were nearly $52,000.

The board is set to meet again Jan. 24.

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