Met Council concerned Southwest Light Rail budget deficit might reach $335 million
The Met Council is discussing the best way to address a budget deficit that could reach as high as $335 million before the end of the year for the Southwest Light Rail project.
The Hennepin County and Met Council have, in principle, agreed to a 55%-45% split of the costs to cover that budget gap, and the Deputy General Manager of Capital Services for Metro Transit, Nick Thompson, told Met Council Board members Wednesday that the deficit contingency plans are in place if the gap reaches that $335 million mark.
“That’s why we said our exposure is up to $150 million dollars because we haven’t finalized that number yet,” said Thompson.
If the Met Council, in the end, has to pay $150 million toward balancing the SWLRT budget deficit, that would mean the remaining $185 million would be the responsibility of Hennepin County.
Met Council member, Judy Johnson, pressed Thompson for more specific numbers from the 55-45 agreement with Hennepin County.
“When, whoever was negotiating with Hennepin County, I mean what was the number trying to make sure that we managed our risk fully?” said Johnson. “I cannot imagine everything was negotiated in a vacuum. So, will we get that number late this year then as it comes through committee, or in committee in January?”
“January for this committee, but we haven’t really mapped that out, but January’s the month,” Thompson responded.
Met Council member, Wendy Wulff, said she did not like the proposed agreement because the six other counties served by the Met Council were not getting a fair shake by assisting in helping what she called a “Hennepin County project.”
“And I am really frustrated with this agreement. We haven’t talked about if this is a good agreement. This is a terrible agreement,” said Wulff.
Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle defended the 55-45 agreement with Hennepin County and took responsibility for negotiating the deal, adding that he had the support of Governor Tim Walz.
“The reason I think it’s a good deal is because it’s a one-time cost for something that we own. Am I happy with it? Anybody here happy with it? No,” said Zelle.