By Julie Shapiro
MANHATTAN — The Port Authority slashed 200 jobs but did not raise fares or tolls in a 2011 budget unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon.
The $7.2 billion budget acknowledged the tough economic times by keeping operating costs flat for the third year in a row and cutting helicopter patrols, outside contractors and employee E-ZPass perks, saving over $20 million.
Still, the Port’s leaders are concerned about falling ridership and revenues and would not rule out a future fare and toll increases on the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and the George Washington bridge, among others, if the numbers worsen.
"We’ll discuss toll increases and revenue enhancement when that time comes," Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia told reporters after the board’s vote. "For now, we’re confident we have the resources to do what we need to do."
One of the Port Authority’s most aggressive measures in the 2011 budget is the elimination of 200 jobs, which will bring the bi-state agency to its lowest staffing level in 40 years.
Chris Ward, the Port’s executive director, called the reduction a "major management challenge" but said he did not expect commuters and travelers to notice a difference in their experience.
"The Port Authority is tightening its belt here at headquarters," Ward said. "People are having to work harder [and] do more with less."
The staff cut will be achieved through attrition, not layoffs, and security and police officers will be exempt, Ward said.
The Port’s budget includes one major chunk of money that hasn’t yet been allocated to a specific project: $595 million that was once supposed to build Access to the Region’s Core, a pair of new tunnels beneath the Hudson River.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pulled the plug on the multi-billion-dollar project in October, but the Port kept the funds in its budget and will devote them to "critical regional transportation projects," Ward said.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo will work with Christie to decide what those projects will be, but Christie "will take the lead," Ward said, implying that the funds would serve New Jersey.
The 2011 budget also includes $1.9 billion for World Trade Center rebuilding, $247 million for new PATH cars and signals and $31 million to reduce delays at JFK International Airport.