Extra taxes or fees eyed to fund local transit solutions | AspenTimes.com

Extra taxes or fees eyed to fund local transit solutions

Roaring Fork Valley residents could be paying higher sales taxes or motor vehicle registration fees by the year 2000 to raise funds to solve transportation problems.

Elected officials aim to decide by May whether to ask voters to approve a Regional Transit Authority and a funding mechanism. The preliminary plan is to seek an additional sales tax of up to 0.4 percent or an additional registration fee of $10 per vehicle.

A valleywide sales tax could raise between $4 million and $5 million annually, according to Dan Blankenship, general manager of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency. RFTA’s staff and board of directors is helping head preliminary planning efforts for the proposed transit district.

The revenues for a transit authority could be used for a variety of purposes, ranging from increased bus service and improved bus stops to railroad infrastructure, Blankenship said. Funds could be spent on a combination of bus and rail solutions.

Creation of a valleywide transportation district would assure equitable funding and not strap Aspen and Pitkin County with the financial burden of solving transit problems.

Equitable funding would also assure equitable solutions, according to Blankenship. With the “tremendous growth” projected in the mid- and downvalley areas, some action is required to avoid dire environmental consequences when it comes to transportation, he said.

“We have to do something. We don’t have a choice,” Blankenship. “The question is what.”

The state Legislature passed a law in 1997 which enables areas of Colorado to establish regional transportation districts. If a district was designed for the entire Roaring Fork Valley, each jurisdiction would have to ask voters if it should be created. A separate ballot question in each jurisdiction would be posed for funding – be it a sales tax or vehicle registration fee.

But it is still up in the air whether those questions will make it to the November 1999 ballot. Colin Laird of Healthy Mountain Communities, an organization helping plan the district, said elected boards and citizens’ groups will study the issue this winter.

“We’ll have a real clear idea by this spring where this is going to go,” he said.

A variety of combinations could emerge. The proposed district could encompass as few as two jurisdictions such as Aspen and Pitkin County, according to Blankenship. Or it could include jurisdictions which aren’t contiguous, such as Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and Pitkin County.

The proposed sales tax could be any amount up to four-tenths of one percent.

A potential problem is a packed ballot. Along with two potential questions about a regional transportation district, upper valley governments might have questions about solutions and funding for the entrance to Aspen transit picture.

Elected officials will assess whether too many ballot questions will harm chances for the regional transportation district’s approval, said Blankenship.

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