Fare, tax hikes possible for Eagle County buses | AspenTimes.com

Fare, tax hikes possible for Eagle County buses

Chris Outcalt
Vail correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. ” ECO Transit could raise fares or propose a sales tax increase to voters to make up for a shrinking budget and an increase in bus passengers in Eagle County, officials said.

About 80 percent of the ECO Transit budget comes from Eagle County sales tax revenue, which the county projected to decrease 5 percent in 2009. ECO Transit also had one of the biggest yearly increases in ridership in 2008 ” making its budget tight, said ECO Transit Planner David Johnson.

“We’re running very close to break even,” Johnson said.

The tightening budget has forced officials to start looking at ways to increase revenue for ECO Transit, and both raising fares and increasing sales tax are options, officials said.

“The conversation at this point is very conceptual,” Johnson said.

A sales tax increase dedicated to ECO Transit would have to be approved by the voters.

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Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe, who is also a member of the ECO Transit board, said fares might need to be raised sometime in 2009 to keep ECO sustainable.

“We know we’re in a tough spot right now as we look at the next couple years,” Wolfe said. “We may have to raise fares in the short term.”

Commissioner Sara Fisher said ECO’s need for more revenue is good and bad.

“The demand that is out there is giving us reason to re-group on what it is we should be providing,” Fisher said. “It’s good on one hand, the whole point is to try an increase ridership.”

Fisher said the ECO Transit budget is in good shape for the winter.

The county recently funded a study to get an idea of what the county’s transit needs will be in the next five years. The study should be completed in February and the transit board intends to discuss revenue options again after it’s released.

“That’s one tool we’ll use to help us determine ridership growth and what we need to do if we accommodate that,” Johnson said.

Another option, officials said, is forming a true regional transportation group that includes the towns of Vail and Avon.

“We need to find out how to keep ECO sustainable and have the discussion so we understand what ECO should look like next year and 10 years from now,” Fisher said.

“Perhaps the time has come to look at a regional transportation authority.”

coutcalt@vaildaily.com

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