Carbondale to put RFTA tax on ballot |

Carbondale to put RFTA tax on ballot

Jeremy Heiman
Carbondale correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” A November ballot question that would increase Carbondale’s sales tax to support beefed-up bus service won the go-ahead from the Town Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

The 0.3 percent sales tax hike would raise an estimated additional $381,000 for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in 2009. But the town, if the voters approve the measure, will actually be increasing its funding for RFTA by 0.4 percent as the result of a deal made between the town trustees and the transit agency.

The part of Carbondale’s current sales tax that goes to transportation is currently 0.7 percent. Of that, 0.6 percent goes to RFTA and the town gets back 0.1 percent for Highway 133 improvements.

The question that RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship put to the Town Board on Tuesday night is whether Carbondale should forego the 0.1 percent, which amounts to around $100,000 annually.

That money was in play because Carbondale is within 0.3 percent of the statutory ceiling on sales tax, and can’t raise its sales tax levy by 0.4 percent to match the increase being asked of other municipalities served by the RFTA. The agency believes a 0.4 percent is what’s needed to put its Bus Rapid Transit plan into effect.

So, Carbondale voters will actually be asked to raise their own sales tax by one-tenth of 1 percent less than other towns in RFTA’s taxing district, but the town’s additional contribution to the BRT will still be equal.

“The effective rate of increase is a uniform .4 percent,” Blankenship said.

Under Carbondale’s existing sales tax, the town’s contribution to RFTA’s 2009 revenue would be an estimated $761,542, said Blankenship ” or, 6.4 percent of the agency’s total revenue. The 0.4 percent increase would bump Carbondale’s contribution up to 7 percent of total revenue.

That brings Carbondale’s contribution closer to the percentage of RFTA ridership that starts and ends in town. Approximately 400,000 passengers board and disembark from buses in Carbondale annually, amounting to about 9 percent of the “ons and offs” for RFTA buses.

Trustee John Foulkrod questioned the need for buses running every half-hour, saying noting some are half empty. RFTA staff and other trustees pointed out, however, that reducing service also reduces ridership.

Trustee John Hoffmann said Carbondale should continue to do its part to support the system, for the numerous benefits that transit brings.

“This has importance to the whole valley, Aspen to Rifle,” Hoffmann said.

Kristen Kenyon, RFTA’s director of planning, pointed out that the effect of the tax increase will be slight.

“If I go to the flower shop on Main Street, or any store in town, it’ll only be an additional 3 cents on every $10 purchase,” Kenyon said. And the RFTA sales tax does not apply to groceries or utilities.

The trustees approved the ballot issue, 5-2, with Pam Zentmyer and Foulkrod dissenting.