Pinellas County Transit agency PSTA is heading towards insolvency. They used one-time COVID dollars to hand out large raises now baked into PSTA's budget. PSTA depleted almost $100M of COVID dollars over the last few years.
PSTA knew they were heading towards a fiscal cliff last year. The then governing PSTA board approved huge pay raises, implemented "free to the rider" SunRunner rides and did nothing to alleviate PSTA's fiscal hemorrhaging.
PSTA's operating expenses increased over 33% between 2018 and 2022. From 2021 to 2022, PSTA's operating expenses increased 22%.
PSTA projects 2023 operating expenses to be 113,276,130, an increase of 11% over 2022.
PSTA's property tax revenues increased 35% from 2018 to 2022.
PSTA's property tax revenue increased almost 14% from 2022 to 2023 and is expected to increase almost 11% from 2023 to 2024.
Without a millage roll back, this is tax hikes to the property owners who pay the PSTA property tax, the vast majority never or rarely ever ride the bus.
As we posted here in 2019, PSTA has been heading towards a fiscal cliff since before the pandemic.
Before COVID, PSTA was dipping into their Reserves to fund their increasing operating expenses...even as their property tax revenues were increasing. They knew they would need a new revenue source to operate the SunRunner bus rapid transit (BRT) service.
The pandemic hit in 2020 and PSTA received almost $100M of one-time COVID relief dollars which kept PSTA above water for the last few years.
Like HART transit agency in Hillsborough County, PSTA went on a wild spending spree burning through those millions with little to no oversight or forethought.
Where did all that money go? To fund pay increases and pay for PSTA's increasing operating expenses....even as property tax revenues were increasing by double digits.
In 2022 PSTA handed out pay increases from 5.2 to 24% to their administrative staff, including a raise of 8.4% to its CEO Brad Miller.
According to this report:
Debbie Leous, PSTA’s chief financial officer, said the $11 million needed for the administrative raises would come from money received from the federal government for COVID-19.
When the PSTA bus drivers protested the admin pay raises, PSTA handed them a pay increase between 6.7 and 10.3%. PSTA bus drivers are now the highest paid in the state. for a transit agency that is going insolvent.
The high cost of operating the SunRunner, the big pay raises funded by one-time dollars is coming home to roost for PSTA.
PSTA's CEO Miller told the Tampa Bay Business Journal last month "Now we're in a situation where we'll be in a deficit."
When PSTA submitted their Federal grant request to the Federal Transit Administration, they stated they expected a 44% fare box recovery from the SunRunner.
PSTA's overall fare box recovery since 2013 has been declining. But the pay raises keep going.
PSTA told the Feds and the public that the Central Avenue Trolley (CAT) that runs in the same corridor as the SunRunner would continue to operate. PSTA wanted the public to assume that SunRunner riders were "new" transit riders.
PSTA's 2021 10 year Transportation Development Plan (TDP) estimated revenue from the SunRunner to be $1.9M in year 1and almost $3M in year 2. Instead PSTA to date has received ZERO revenue from the SunRunner and has LOST revenue as riders on other routes get their "free" rides.
PSTA was warned the SunRunner would simply siphon existing riders from the CAT.