The Tucson City Council spared bus routes from any changes, for now, in the $1.264 billion budget that was tentatively approved Tuesday.
The council voted 5-2 to delay implementing proposed changes to bus routes until the city’s transit advisory committee submits its recommendations by October.
The changes would have saved the city $2.4 million a year. Since the money was factored into next year’s proposed budget, the change left a hole that needed to be filled before the council voted on a tentative budget later in the evening.
To cover the new gap, the council directed finance officials to find more than $2 million in one-time fixes, such as land sales, leaving Chief Financial Officer Kelly Gottschalk scrambling to identify some last-second dollars to plug into the budget.
Gottschalk emerged with an anticipated land sale for $1.57 million involving a 6.5-acre parcel near 22nd Street and the Interstate 10 frontage road.
Most of the remaining amount would be covered when the council eventually approves some bus route changes later this year.
Council members who supported delaying the route changes said the process moved too quickly and requires more community input.
Councilwoman Regina Romero said the Regional Transportation Authority and the city’s transit committee had too many questions about the changes and need more time to review them.
But Assistant City Manager Albert Elias said the city’s comprehensive transit analysis has been available since January and plenty of interested citizens have studied it and offered opinions on the proposed changes.
Carlos de Leon, deputy director of the Tucson Department of Transportation, said while there’s always room for improvement when it comes to citizen outreach, this year’s effort to inform the public was the largest ever. Despite the effort, Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said she believes some concerned groups were overlooked.
The change has “implications, not just to the riders,” Uhlich said. “All the business owners who are on routes that are going to be diverted don’t realize their employees are going to have trouble” getting to work.
She also said apartment complexes could see higher vacancy rates if bus routes near their properties are moved.
“We can do (these changes) without that kind of outreach, but I think it would be detrimental,” Uhlich said.
But Elias stressed bus service wasn’t being cut. Instead, routes were being realigned to meet the demand of bus riders.
Not everyone was certain the council would ever agree to touch bus routes and realize any savings.
“We can’t even take the recommendation of seven experts in the field to make market-driven changes,” said Councilman Steve Kozachik, who along with Mayor Jonathan Rothschild voted against the delay. “If we can’t agree with that, then I don’t think we’re going to agree to much in October.”
After about two hours of wrangling, the council adopted the tentative budgetwith only Kozachik voting against it.
That total was $14 million more than the previously proposed budget, with most of the increase for final streetcar construction costs.
A public hearing on the tentative budget is June 3.