Dear Media and Friends:
Ellen Smyth, who has served as the Director of the Environmental Services Department of the City of El Paso for the last 16 years, was just appointed by the City Manager as Director of Sun Metro, so now she manages both departments.
Yesterday at 2:20pm she sent an email to Sun Metro staff (below) which announces that Sun Metro is “carrying a $52 million debt as well as a cash deficit of approximately $16 million.”
Smith claims that the FY 2021 budget will be $71.4 million dollars, which means that Sun Metro is nearly a full year in the hole!
According to page 289 of the latest City budget book, Sun Metro currently accounts for 46% of the $156.5 million Infrastructure budget, which includes Streets and Maintenance (48%) and Capital Improvement (6%).
According to Brutus, who is an astute observer of government problems, Sun Metro ridership has been declining sharply for several years in a row. His posts here and here draw upon reports called Fixed Route Performance Indicators, which were presented at meetings of the Sun Metro Mass Transit Board. He reports the following catastrophic declines in ridership:
FY 2016 had a 9.2% decrease from FY 2015.
FY 2017 had a 9.3% decrease from FY 2016.
FY 2018 had a 5% decrease from FY 2017.
FY 2019 had a 6.4% decrease from FY 2018.
For the record, FY 2019 ended on August 31, 2019, which was a long time before the COVID-19 pandemic. CFO Robert Cortinas presented a PowerPoint at the City Council meeting on May 26 under Agenda Item 13.1 in which he announced that Sun Metro enterprise revenues declined by $97,000 from February to March and by another $377,000 from March to April, with daily ridership down 70% because of the pandemic. (pp. 17-18). One can only image the overall financial impact of the pandemic on FY 2020!
THE TROLLEY DEBACLE
You may recall that KFOX reported in March 2019 that from November 2018 to February 2019 the streetcars produced only $19,000 in revenue against $900,000 in expenditures and that February ridership was down to only 9,000 people.
Again, in the first four months of operation, the streetcars cost $47 for every $1 of ticket revenue! See also the KFOX follow-up report. T
he City received only $19,000 in revenue during those four months while operating costs exceeded $900,000!
In March, the City ultimately terminated the trolleys altogether, blaming the pandemic rather than the excessive operating cost.
There is no question but that the trolleys have contributed to the financial demise of Sun Metro.
From: “Salamanca, Erica” <SalamancaE@elpasotexas.gov>
Subject: Message from Sun Metro Managing Director Ellen A. Smyth
Please read below on behalf of Managing Director Ellen A. Smyth:
As you know today is Jay Banasiak last day as Director of Sun Metro. I have been appointed by the City Manager as Managing Director of Sun Metro and Environmental Services Departments (ESD). I have been the Director of ESD for the past 16 years—and as such I will try to align policies so that employees in both departments are treated similarly. I already had HR send out a note about tattoos—we will be following the City’s tattoo policy and no longer be more restrictive.
The attached memo is my second directive—there will be no unauthorized overtime. Employees will face discipline for ignoring this request. The bottom line is that Sun Metro is broke. Currently we are carrying a $52 million debt as well as a cash deficit of approximately $16 million. So my orders from the City Manager is to get Sun Metro back into the black and out of the red-ink. $70 million is A LOT of money!! So every little penny/dollar counts. Our entire annual budget for next year FY21 is $71.4 million. So in essence we are one year in the hole.
I know that together we can work to resolve the financial crisis with as little difficulty as possible. Let me give you fair notice that many changes will be coming. Thanks so much for your cooperation.
Ellen A. Smyth, PE, MPA
Managing Director, Sun Metro