CHICAGO (CBS) — Metra ended September with a $7 million shortfall, and it has some members of the Regional Transportation Authority board concerned.

The agency’s officials have outlined a plan designed to erase the shortfall, which was oiriginally $18.5 million. But several board members said it relies too heavily on stronger-than-anticipated sales tax revenues.

As a result, the RTA board took the unusual step of refusing to sign off on the agency’s third-quarter financial report, tabling it till the RTA’s December meeting.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

“What message does it send if we say they’re in compliance (with the RTA Act) and they’re not?” Director Douglas Troiani asked.

Chicago director Michael Rosenberg said he would be “more comfortable” with the plan if it relied more heavily on job and other economies, instead of the sales tax projections, which Rosenberg called “a wish and a hope.”

RTA Executive Director Joseph Costello said the agency’s staff remains convinced that Metra will finish the year close enough to budget to avoid problems. Costello said that if Metra’s year-end figures miss the mark, it would be required to take the money out of next year’s budget, which Metra officials have already said it tenuously balanced.

The commuter rail agency is the only one that has approved up-front fare hikes as part of its 2012 budget plan. The proposal, forwarded to RTA board for approval last week, calls for a fare increase averaging 25.1 percent on Feb. 1. Some fares will go up more than 35 percent in the largest fare increase in the commuter rail agency’s history.

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