The RTA board is fairly divided, it seems, between those with their eyes on the money and those with their eyes on the mission.

Board GM Joe Calabrese called a special meeting on Thursday to discuss which of the possible money-saving tactics, enacted last year at budget time, that they would now have to employ to stay afloat. Most of the discussion concerned whether the agency’s dozen Community Circulators should be saved, covered by even steeper fare increases across the board.

“Sales tax revenues, the agency’s primary funding source, are 10.7 percent lower this year than 2008,” , a loss of nearly $19 million, Calabrese noted matter-of-factly. “The options are: We can raise fares and reduce service; we can raise fares only; and reduce service only. The only other [option] is one I can’t find, and that’s to balance our budget.”

Calabrese brought staffers forward to explain, in detail, how exactly the shit has hit the fan. The money-crunchers, essentially: “It’s not pretty.”

The agency faces a $5.5 million deficit at the end of this year, if it doesn’t take action. The sales tax dip is “five times worse than the worse year in RTA’s history,” said Calabrese, and from ’02 to last year, the state has reduced funding by about 62 percent. He claimed that staff and efficiencies couldn’t be stretched any further.

At budget time last year, a fare increase of as much as 50 cents and service cuts were enacted to offset rising fuel costs and a projected $20 million deficit, but then the board deferred the changes — enacting a quarter hike and far fewer cuts in routes, in hopes of finding more funding assistance. It didn’t come through.

“We’re here today because, just a few days ago, we really thought that, as a staff, we could make it through without these cuts,” said Calabrese. “We no longer feel that way.”

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