LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Metro's Board of Directors approved the agency's $9 billion budget for fiscal year 2024 Thursday, representing a $232.4 million, or 2.6%, increase over the current year.
The budget will make investments in service frequency and reliability, cleaning and public safety, Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggans said.
"All these investments focus on one thing: putting people first," Wiggins wrote in her budget letter. "Metro's budget must reflect that we are here to serve our customers."
The budget includes $2.4 billion in the Metro Transit Operating and Maintenance program. The transit agency intends that allocation to provide about 8.9 million revenue hours of service, a 9.6% higher level of service than prior to the coronavirus pandemic.
Metro will allocate $201 million in cleaning efforts, an increase of $23.6 million, or 13.3%, compared to the current year. The money will fund 10 roving cleaning teams, hire 24 more full-time custodial staff and hire up to 50 temporary part-time custodial staff dedicated to the B (Red) and D (Purple) lines.
Wiggins insisted that public safety is another priority in the budget, with the agency coming under close scrutiny in recent weeks due to high-profile crimes on or near the transit system. The budget includes $290.5 million in public safety and would support the agency's Reimagining Public Safety Framework, "a multi-layered strategy for enhancing public safety" on the system.
Metro previously agreed to negotiate and extend its current multi-agency transit law enforcement contracts, with modifications for up to three additional years, through June 2026.
Metro's contracts with the Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to support the agency's bus and rail operations cost approximately $911.9 million over the last six years.
As negotiations continue, Metro officials said they have introduced additional terms into the scope of work, which received "conceptual agreement from all agencies." Those terms would require the three law enforcement agencies to comply with the principles of Metro's Bias Free Policing and Public Safety Data Policy -- as long as the terms are not "inconsistent with the law enforcement existing policies and procedures."
Metro will work to finalize negotiations and ensure a "comprehensive agreement" that meets the needs of all stakeholders, Metro officials said. However, while the transportation agency seeks to extend law enforcement contracts, Metro staff continues to work on a report detailing the feasibility of creating an in-house public safety agency.
Concern over safety on the system prompted county Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, a member of the Metro board, to request that the board vote separately on the public safety element of the budget. Her colleagues, however, declined to bifurcate the vote. Horvath ultimately abstained from voting on the overall budget, saying she couldn't support a spending plan that maintained the status quo on public safety.
"I will not support status quo funding for Metro safety," Horvath said in a statement after the vote. "Our existing safety contract simply does not keep riders or operators safe. I appreciate the hard work of staff and the many budget allocations made to responsibly invest in our system. But without assurances that law enforcement will meet our critical deployment needs, I couldn't support allocating more than $175 million to maintain the status quo."
The budget will also fund $13.5 million in outreach to unhoused people in partnership with People Assisting the Homeless and Los Angeles County's Department of Health Services. In addition, $10 million will be allocated to a new partnership with the county's Department of Mental Health Services to provide training and strategies.
Another $1.8 million would be used for short-term shelters, workforce partnerships and other strategies to address societal crisis of mental health, drug addiction and homelessness.
The Metro Transit Capital Improvement Program, aimed at maintaining, upgrading and modernizing bus and rail assets, will total $541 million for FY24.
Wiggins cautioned that the agency in coming years could face an overall operating deficit and challenges with major infrastructure capital projects.
"I know we're all concerned about the fiscal cliff," Los Angeles Mayor and board member Karen Bass said. "We just need a little bit of caution about the end of this calendar year because the (governor's) May (budget) revise was a revised guess, right.
"We're not really going to know what revenue is until October because of the delay in taxes, so we better be concerned about that as well."
The Board of Directors voted 10-1 on the budget, with Horvath abstaining and county Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn both absent from Thursday's meeting.
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