Dip in sales tax revenue hurts CATS funding

Hard economic times are eating away at one of CATS major funding sources – sales tax revenue.

Officials with the Charlotte Area Transit System said Tuesday that sales taxes earmarked for the system are tracking at about 2 percent less than expected, a difference of about $1.1 million.

Dee Pereira, transit's chief financial officer, said the agency should be able to make up the difference thanks to a spike in light rail and bus ridership.

Ridership fares were expected to reach about $17.4 million. Officials now expect them to come in between $18.5 million and $19 million.

“It looks like, for this year at least, it could be a wash,” Pereira said. “But I think we will have to start discussing what this means if it continues.”

The news comes after a CATS fare hike earlier this month aimed at offsetting fuel costs. The Metropolitan Transit Commission increased local one-ride fares from $1.30 to $1.50.

The change, which goes into effect Oct. 6, means the cost of monthly local passes rise from $52 to $60, and monthly express passes increase from $70 to $80.

Pereira said CATS expected sales taxes to generate about $73 million for the agency. It looks like CATS will get a little less than $72 million.

CATS closed the books on 2008 Tuesday, the end of the fiscal year. Sales tax receipts are still two months behind. The agency's budget for 2008 was $103.7 million. The 2009 budget will be $112.6 million.

Typically the agency increases rates every two years. This one came early. Without the fare increase, officials predicted more than a $4 million shortfall in the fuel budget next year.

Keith Parker, CATS chief executive, also said that if fuel prices continue to go up, the agency may have to raise rates again.