Why is TriMet buying new furniture amid budget cuts?

PORTLAND, Ore. - Two weeks after TriMet cut spending on bus routes by more than $1 million the agency's board voted Wednesday to spend $1.4 million on new furniture.

Why buy new furniture when TriMet leaders say the transit agency's budget is unsustainable? It turns out the agency is downsizing its office space in order to save money.

TriMet has been swinging a big budget ax to close a $12 million budget hole and more cuts could be coming.

But with the Portland-Milwaukie light rail line three years away from opening, TriMet officials say its operations command center in Gresham is too small. And rather than spending $11 million to build a new building, TriMet is shuffling employees around.

"We're consolidating our footprint - going from four facilities to two," said TriMet spokeswoman Mary Fetsch.

By consolidating space, you'd think you wouldn't need to buy new furniture and spend $1.4 million to save money.

Fetsch explained: "If you use this (an office chair) you have to disassemble it, you have to store it, you have to reassemble it and for some furniture you have to rehab it."

Keeping and moving the old furniture would cost more than $1 million, according to TriMet estimates. But Fetsch said the real savings come from TriMet's plan to downsize work stations.

"All of these (offices) will become 6 x 8 cubicles," she said. "Even the general manager will not have an office."

By ditching furniture that won't fit in smaller cubicles, TriMet won't need to rent as much office space.

"If we moved all of this furniture into the space, we would have to have up to 15,000 more square footage that we would have to lease," Fetsch said.

TriMet expects to save more than $2 million in rent over 10 years, more than the cost of the new furniture.

Fetsch said they are looking into keeping some chairs and other "things like that."

She said TriMet is auctioning off old furniture with the money lowering the new furniture bill, which TriMet is getting help on from the federal government and other sources. So the most TriMet will actually pay for the furniture is $735,000.