SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Transit Authority trustees were told Wednesday they'll be out of a job by November thanks to sweeping legislation that replaces the board with a new three-member management team appointed by the governor.
The changes made by the 2018 Legislature — which also include renaming the agency as the Transit District of Utah, something UTA says will cost $50 million — were detailed in a seven-page handout discussed during the board's first meeting since SB136 passed.
"There are a hundred questions," the board chairman, Greg Bell, said after the 45-minute presentation, which included details about when exactly the transition will take place. The bill only says the new appointments must be in place by November.
Bell said he plans to call a special board meeting in April to talk specifics.
During Wednesday's meeting, Andrew Gruber, of the Wasatch Front Regional Council, suggested there will likely be more discussion about the unfunded name change. It is anticipated the change will be made over time as resources allow.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed the bill into law, has already questioned the need for a new name. He told the Deseret News just before the session ended he wanted to "push the pause button" on the name change and study it further.
The cost of the new name is disputed by UTA. Lawmakers did not appropriate any money for the change, saying it shouldn't be an expense if the agency waits to use the new name until the time comes to replace buses and other equipment.
Trustee Babs De Lay said the concern she has heard the most about the bill is the possibility of spending $50 million on the name change. She asked where that number originated.
UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson said he provided a fiscal note to lawmakers estimating the price tag for becoming Transit District of Utah at $50 million, including what he called about $28 million in "direct hard costs."
Those costs include vehicles, signs and buildings, he said, and are a "well-defined number." But Benson said other costs, such as those involving the website and ticketing that are contracted, were estimated.
Another trustee, Sherrie Hall Everett, had raised concerns about what she said was a $50 million expense during the legislative session, but the fiscal note from UTA was not included in the bill.
A marketing professional, she said at the meeting that there's a "gross fundamental flaw in thinking you can transition over time" to a new name, when there are millions of transit riders each year who need clarity.2 comments on this story
Everett, who said she has been "mischaracterized" as opposing the entire bill, also questioned another late addition to the legislation that replaces UTA's legal staff with lawyers from the Utah Attorney General's office.
She said that was something put into the legislation "at the last minute" without considering the implications, particularly on the budget if lawyers who don't have specialized knowledge about transit issues take over.
Bell said later he was worried UTA's lawyers might find other jobs and leave before the attorney general's office is set to become the agency's legal counsel in July 2019. He said it would be difficult to fill a short-term position.