RFTA officials reward ‘sacrifices’ | AspenTimes.com

RFTA officials reward ‘sacrifices’

Christmas came six weeks early Thursday for about 165 full-time bus drivers and other employees of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.RFTA’s board of directors approved a management proposal to give full-time employees a $1,500 “performance incentive bonus” in December.RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the bonus will raise morale, help the agency retain workers and “acknowledge the sacrifices we felt the staff made, especially in 2004.”Salaries were frozen for that year to help the bus agency survive a budget crisis. Sales tax revenues plummeted after Sept. 11, 2001, at the same time RFTA was expanding service. Voters everywhere in the valley except Garfield County bailed the agency out last year with a sales tax increase.Blankenship said RFTA employees “didn’t whine – at least not to me” – about the salary freeze and performed admirably through 2004 and ’05.RFTA’s revenues are higher than budgeted for 2005, and expenditures have been lower than anticipated. That will leave the agency with a $1.92 million surplus for the year, according to projections.While the agency will sock away most of that in reserves, Blankenship and top management sought permission to use $250,000 for the special bonuses. The board unanimously approved the request.”I think Dan’s right about the sacrifices that were made in tough years,” said RFTA director and Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen.The surplus was created, in large part, by an 11 percent increase in sales and use taxes over anticipated amounts, and a 10 percent increase in revenues from fares and pass sales. Total revenues were up 5.7 percent while operating expenditures dropped 2 percent.The positive implications for RFTA employees didn’t stop with the $1,500 bonus. The budget approved for 2006 includes a 4 percent cost-of-living increase across the board and up to 4 percent for merit increases.Blankenship said that should ease “the exodus we’ve been experiencing lately.” RFTA has lost eight employees in recent months, most of whom took other local jobs.Businesses froze their work forces and even laid off workers in 2002 and 2003. Jobs were hard to find. But an economic boom that started in 2004 and carried into this year has reignited demand for workers.RFTA anticipates problems recruiting enough seasonal employees to fill all openings. Raising starting pay to $15 per hour will help, Blankenship said.RFTA’s directors approved a $19.83 million budget for 2006. That’s down from forecasted spending of $25.5 million this year.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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