Summit County: At a critical Stage
Ryan Summerlin January 30, 2013
BRECKENRIDGE – With little money left in the bank and a $300,000 budget shortfall to make up this year, the Summit Stage is facing some tough decisions.
“We’re discussing some service restructuring for 2013 aimed at helping us rebuild our fund balance,” transit director John Jones said.
Officials estimate the free transit system needs to cut spending by $500,000 in 2013 to recover what it owes and begin to rebuild reserves. The number could mean reductions in service, layoffs and pushing back the start of ski season service by two weeks for the coming winter.
Three different cost-cutting plans have been floated, proposing scale backs that would save the system between $500,000 and $900,000 through a variety of different strategies. But they all have a few things in common.
“All of them would result in cutbacks in service,” Summit Stage board president Kent Willis said. “All would result in layoffs.”
The first of the three alternatives proposes reducing all routes to hourly service in the summer – April through December – and starting the ski season two weeks later, Dec. 8 rather than late November.
Jones said many of the cuts proposed would have little impact on customers, but a report from the transit system acknowledges the first plan is bad for both riders and employees and may, “affect ridership negatively for additional periods as a result of shaken confidence by the public in the system.”
The second alternative calls for new windows of shoulder season service, which would scale the system back to hourly service from mid-April to mid-June and again from early September to early December, but would maintain half-hour service during the peak summer and winter months. It would call for fewer layoffs than the other two alternatives, but offers the least cost savings and still pushes ski season service back by two weeks.
County officials said they are trying not to scale back summer service, and any changes likely won’t be implemented before April, when the current winter service is set to end.
“We’re going to do absolutely everything we can to avoid any service cutbacks this summer,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “Our plan right now is to go through the winter schedule through April as already posted. If we make any changes, those would likely be to the summer schedule and they might be as simple as extending the summer.”
The Summit Stage finished 2012 approximately $300,000 in the red after a number of expenses – including maintenance on an aging fleet of buses and vacation coverage for veteran drivers – exceeded expectations. The transit system’s savings account, once close to $4 million, has been severely depleted in recent years following the construction of a new fleet maintenance facility.
The Summit Stage Board of Directors will likely make a decision on this year’s cost-saving measures at its next meeting, slated for the end of February.