Aspen-area bus system will consider if it wants to pursue property tax | AspenTimes.com

Aspen-area bus system will consider if it wants to pursue property tax

Passengers board a RFTA bus on a snowy Monday at the Glenwood Springs 27th Street park and ride stop.
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PUBLIC FORUM ON TRANSIT

The Aspen Institute will host its second public talk Thursday as part of its Community Forum on Transportation and Mobility.

Transportation experts Ann Bowers and Chris Breiland of the transportation planning and engineering firm Fehr & Peers will discuss practical new ways to reduce demand for transportation systems while increasing convenience; emerging technologies that affect design, safety and efficiency of all travel modes; how lifestyle and behavioral trends influence transportation systems; and how big data helps us better understand travel patterns.

Bowers and Breiland will be in a conversation with John Sarpa, chairman of the community forum.

The event is free and open to the public. It will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the McNulty Room in the Doerr-Hosier Center at the Aspen Meadows campus. Doors will open at 5 p.m.

The first bill to advance from the Colorado Legislature this year and become law could eventually be used by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority to fund upkeep and expansion of the valleywide public bus system.

House Bill 17-1018 extends the time period that regional transportation authorities can ask voters for approval of a property tax for public transit systems. The authorization to levy a property tax was set to sunset in January 2019. The new law extends the sunset until January 2029.

RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the option of seeking voter approval of a property tax is vital for RFTA because of uncertainty of future federal funding. Federal and state programs have funded purchases of many of the buses and much of the infrastructure.

“In order for RFTA to replace these assets in the future, it appears likely that additional local revenues will be required,” Blankenship said.

“In order for RFTA to replace these assets in the future, it appears likely that additional local revenues will be required.” — RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship

RFTA is funded by sales tax revenue from its eight-member jurisdictions. However, Glenwood Springs and Carbondale are collecting the maximum sales tax allowed for transit: 1 percent. That means the only other funding options available are a 5-mill property tax or 2 percent visitor benefit tax.

RFTA looking at future needs

RFTA is currently working on a major plan examining its future demands and how to meet them. The Integrated Transportation System Plan will provide the board of directors with a blueprint for the future. Blankenship noted the state demographer is forecasting significant growth in the Roaring Fork Valley for employment and population. That will have implications for the bus system — likely increasing demand while federal funding dries up.

“The RFTA board will decide whether RFTA should shrink to fit available resources, maintain the status quo or continue growing to meet future demand,” Blankenship said.

RFTA lobbied for passage of HB17-1018 to keep its options open. Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, whose district includes Eagle County, was one of the sponsors of the bill. The bill received bipartisan support in the state House and Senate and then was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday.

Mitsch Bush noted in a media statement that the bill extends the ability of organizations such as RFTA and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority in Colorado Springs to seek approval of a property tax from their constituents.

“Those Regional Transportation Authorities provide much-needed transportation options for folks outside the Denver Metro area,” Bush said in the statement. “Thanks to the governor for putting these people first, literally.”

Lobbied for bill

RFTA lobbied for approval of the bill. Blankenship and Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt, a member of RFTA’s board of directors, testified for approval during committee hearings in Denver in February.

“RFTA needs (the ability to ask for a property tax) in its toolbox to make sure transit keeps pace with growth,” Whitsitt said.

Blankenship said no decision has been made by RFTA to seek a property tax increase.

“Planning for a successful referendum can take several years and an election should not be undertaken if the economic climate isn’t suitable,” he said. “While it is possible that (the board of directors) may decide to pursue a vote on a mill levy as early as November 2018, it is also possible that the decision to go for a vote could be postponed for several years.

“That is why preserving the option to ask voters to approve a property tax beyond January 2019 was so important for RFTA’s long-term sustainability.”

scondon@aspentimes.com


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