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updated: 7/18/2014 4:34 PM

Metra board to ask, should we raise fares in 2015?

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  • The Metra board could be facing a budget shortfall next year.

       The Metra board could be facing a budget shortfall next year.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
 

A possible shortfall in Metra's 2015 budget means fare increases are one possibility the agency's board could consider in the next few months, although officials stressed it's still early in the process.

Metra's 2014 budget was $728 million and estimates for 2015 indicate spending could grow by $49 million or so, officials said Friday at a meeting. Some of those expenses, however, are optional.

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One of the big variables in the 2015 budget is whether the agency wants to borrow money to pay for capital needs.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Farmer estimated that a $100 million loan at current interest rates could cost about $8 million annually over 30 years to repay.

Whether Metra wants to take that leap will be discussed in the near future.

"It's our first look at self-help," Executive Director Don Orseno said, referring to a loan.

Asked if a fare hike was coming, Orseno said "it's too early to say ... nothing's off the table. But we need to get our arms around (the budget options)."

Another possible expenditure is $3 million for positive train control, an automatic braking system mandated by the federal government to be in place by the end of 2015. It's possible Congress will extend that deadline.

Some fixed expenses that will increase are salaries and benefits. Metra recently negotiated a new contract with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and that, along with other staffing costs, account for a projected $16 million extra. Meanwhile, fuel and utilities will rise by about $10 million in 2015.

Metra must submit its budget to the Regional Transportation Authority in November.

Metra raised fares across the board by an average of 25 percent in 2012 and 10-ride passes by 11 percent in 2013.

Metra's board meeting was held at the Will County administrative center in Joliet as part of an outreach effort.

Will County leaders encouraged the agency to expand service in the region along the Heritage Corridor Line.

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