CARBONDALE - There's no free lunch at the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority anymore - at least not for the board of directors.
After years of directors getting fed breakfast and lunch during their monthly meetings, the free lunch stopped starting in March. It's not a new diet. Instead, new RFTA board Chairwoman Jacque Whitsitt is making sure the board whips through agenda items more quickly than in the past.
"The truth is, our workload is probably less than it has been," Whitsitt said. "It's pointless to stay there just to have lunch when we're finished with our work."
RFTA's meetings start at 8:30 a.m. on the second Thursday of each month. The board of the public bus agency comprises elected officials from the member cities, towns and counties. About a dozen board members, including alternates, meet in Carbondale. In the recent years, the board has worked through such heavy-duty issues as balancing the budget during the recession, policies on the Rio Grande Trail and planning for a $46 million expansion. Meetings were laborious, often lasting until noon or later.
Board members were offered doughnuts, fruit and yogurt for breakfast at the start of the meeting, and then staff members would lay out a buffet of sandwiches or other fare from Carbondale restaurants at noon.
"I don't think it's lavish or anything," said RFTA's chief executive officer, Dan Blankenship. He said the two meals were warranted during the years of long meetings.
"When people are hungry, they might not be able to focus on the issues," he said.
In addition, the elected officials serve extra duty on RFTA's board without pay, Blankenship noted. Some travel from as far away as Aspen, Eagle and New Castle. Several board members voluntarily miss time at work to attend the meetings.
It's not like the board was eating prime rib for lunch. RFTA spent $2,688.48 on meals for 10 board meetings in 2012, according to expenses produced at the request of The Aspen Times. (The monthly meeting was skipped one month; a retreat served as another meeting.) Another $1,183.86 was spent for catered food at the board's annual retreat in June. The bill is bigger for the retreat because staff and other guests also are fed, Blankenship said.
The total food bill for board functions in 2012 was $3,872.34. RFTA is supported primarily by sales tax revenue in members' jurisdictions.
The meetings have become condensed now that construction of new facilities for the expansion is well under way, sales tax revenue has bounced back with the easing of the recession and other major issues have been resolved.
Whitsitt said she hasn't heard any complaint about the lack of lunch from other members of the board of directors.
"They're saying, 'Yeah, the meetings are over sooner,'" she said.
RFTA board members aren't going hungry. Breakfast has been beefed up now that lunch has been eliminated. The board got quiche rather than doughnuts at its April meeting.
Even with a bigger breakfast, Blankenship expects that the board's food expenses will be reduced 30 to 40 percent in 2013 from last year. RFTA's board still will be fed lunch when it is apparent that discussions will last until noon, according to Blankenship. But as of now, there's no bellyaching.
"So far, nobody's complained about it," he said.