George Greanias Lays The Groundwork For Metro's Tough Upcoming Budget Decisions

September is a big month for Metro.

It's when the board will start to publicly discuss and plan its budget for the upcoming fiscal year. There are only 20 days between the first budget presentation to the board -- September 8 -- and its final approval -- September 28.

To gear up for those intense three weeks, the board called a special meeting today to present to the board and public some changes planned for Metro in the upcoming year.

As for the budget, Metro's president, George Greanias, wouldn't give away much information, preferring to wait until the first formal presentation, but he said Metro is working to maintain the current service levels.

"Everything needs to start with that premise," Greanias said.

Whether that's possible, of course, is still up in the air because Metro is entering the budgeting process with a huge question: Will the $900 million full funding agreement finally be awarded from the feds?

Greanias said he hopes "the picture will clarify around the federal grant" soon (Metro has hoped that for more than a year), and Gilbert Garcia, Metro's board chairman, added that the Federal Transit Administration hasn't requested any new information from Metro.

That's a good thing, because the funding agreement is being held up by the FTA's still-pending Buy American investigation into Metro's business with CAF, a Spanish company supplying new light rail cars for the Main Street and East End light rail lines.

Greanias also presented at the meeting some changes in the way Metro will operate in the future, and among the highlights were Greanias' ideas to control costs and quality, including better use of existing assets.

Metro's downtown headquarters, for example, which opened in 2004 with a price tag of $41 million, currently has two floors that aren't being used for anything. Again, two vacant floors; forty-one million dollars.

"We should not have two floors of public property that aren't being used," Greanias said. "That's not good stewardship."

Metro also plans to create a "customer advisory council" sometime next year, as well as actual scorecards that can be used to judge Metro's performance in its seven new operating principles.

All the information from Greanias' presentation should eventually be posted on Metro's Web site.

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