Denton County Transportation Authority finance officials have begun worst-case scenario planning to protect the agency’s cash reserves following the COVID-19 virus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Marisa Perry, the agency’s finance director, told board members during their virtual meeting Thursday morning that she has created new projections to check the agency’s resilience. Those projections consider both 25% and 50% losses in sales tax revenue this year.
Both projections showed the agency has enough cash to cover its operations — which were reduced last week — for a while. DCTA buses and A-train services are still running Monday through Saturday — but less frequently. The services help employees get to work and other people get to medical appointments or food sources during a countywide order to stay home and leave only for essential matters.
“Both projections show we have sufficient cash and would not be touching reserves for two to three years,” Perry said.
DCTA has about $17 million in reserves, she said. About half of the agency’s annual $45 million budget comes from sales tax collected in Denton, Highland Village and Lewisville.
Those cities, too, are projecting losses to see what kinds of spending adjustments need to be made in the coming months. Federal officials announced a record 3 million Americans applied for jobless benefits last week in the wake of “stay home” orders across the country.
Sam Burke, a DCTA board member from Corinth, said he encouraged the staff to continue collecting information that shows where the agency’s finances are, even though it will be weeks before the first good numbers come in.
“Whatever you do, it’s going to be a work of fiction,” Burke said.
Businesses pay collected sales tax to the state comptroller who, in turn, remits a local government’s portion to them two months later. For example, in April, DCTA will receive the February sales tax receipts. It won’t be until May that DCTA receives collections for this month and can start to see the full impact of economic losses from the pandemic.
DCTA could be buffeted from some losses with the $2 trillion federal relief package Congress is preparing. The package includes a $25 billion allocation for public transit, an amount thought to be the most allocated for transit in a single year, said Kristina Holcomb, DCTA’s deputy CEO.
The relief package for transit would likely include funds to both maintain service and fill the gap of lost revenue. Transit agencies also expect the relief package to help buy supplies to keep drivers and customer service agents safe from the virus, Holcomb said.
The funding would go into four programs at the Federal Transit Administration, two of which DCTA is already a participant, Holcomb said.
And once approved by the FTA, the money should arrive fast — within seven business days, Holcomb said.
The staff is still going through the finer details of the legislation with the American Public Transportation Association to fully understand its provisions, she added.
The association had advocated aggressively on behalf of public transit agencies nationwide, Board Chairwoman Dianne Costa said.
“Everything we’re experiencing here is being experienced by transit agencies around the country,” Costa said, adding, “We’re going to weather this just fine.”
CEO Raymond Suarez said that, for now, the staff would project a flat budget for next year, with no new hires and no new capital projects.
The board’s first budget talks will come in June, one month after sales tax numbers start coming in.