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Utah Transit Authority executives will receive bonuses this year. But amid lingering controversy over big payouts in the past, the UTA Executive Board could not resolve Monday exactly how much administrators deserve and decided to study it more.
Bonuses for this year are based on how well executives met goals last year. The UTA Board set 16 goals for 2014. According to information presented Monday, the agency fully achieved 12, partially met two others, and totally missed two (although UTA is debating whether one of those missed goals was partially achieved).
UTA Board Chairman H. David Burton asked Executive Board members if they wanted to withhold all bonuses because not all goals were met. They decided against that and opted to give partial bonuses instead.
But they were unsure what percentage of the total possible amount to award.
The difficulty comes in part because one of the missed goals was a big one: improving ridership by 4 percent. Ridership increased by 2.2 percent instead, a bit more than half the goal.
"In my mind, ridership should rate as the most significant component of our goals," said board member Chris Bleak. In other words, missing that one goal of the 16 perhaps should merit deducting more than one-sixteenth from possible bonuses.
"Not that some of these other things are not important, because they certainly are," Bleak said. "But we need to be carrying more and more passengers."
UTA President and General Manager Michael Allegra said in a presentation last week that while the agency did not meet its ridership goal, "compared to everybody else, particularly our peers, we did exceptional." He noted that UTA more than doubled the national average increase in ridership of 0.95 percent.
Another goal listed as missed was to obtain $75 million in federal grants for new projects. Allegra suggested last week that the board consider that goal as achieved because UTA had done all in its power to seek the money, which did not arrive last year. The agency believes it will likely come this year, because President Barack Obama listed in his budget money for a Provo-Orem bus rapid-transit project.
"Staff is still deciding how to report this goal to the board," UTA spokesman Remi Barron said. "Goal sheets are not finalized until presented to the full board for its action," not just the Executive Board.
One of the two partially completed goals included building a fueling facility for compressed natural gas. Construction ran into delays, but is expected to be finished soon. Another goal called for UTA to enter into three contracts with cities for "transit-oriented developments." It signed two.
The Executive Board asked the UTA Board's Planning and Development Committee to recommend what percentage for bonuses it believes is fair. It also asked its Finance and Operations panel to figure out how to weigh each of UTA's 2015 goals so it won't have similar difficulty in figuring out bonuses next year.
Among the 2015 goals are increasing ridership by 3.3 percent; holding the tax subsidy per ride to under $4.01; and deciding by Oct. 31 whether to convert to a distance-based fare system instead of charging the same rate for trips of any length; and if such a system is approved, to launch it by Jan. 1.
Bonuses have proved controversial. A legislative audit last year said UTA claimed publicly that its salaries were relatively low, but failed to include its large bonuses and generous benefits in comparisons which made its total compensation high compared to other agencies.
Two years ago, some top officials received bonuses of up to $30,000, including Allegra whose overall compensation package was $402,187 that year.
Amid criticism, last year UTA adopted a policy to reduce the maximum bonus to $7,500 and gave that amount to 22 people. Allegra was not given a bonus, and his total compensation fell to $367,608.