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Funding secure for free Snowmass bus

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Rustin Gudim/Special to The Aspen TimesElected officials have agreed to continue funding free bus service between Aspen and Snowmass with a half-cent tax collected in the upper valley.
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ASPEN – Free bus service between Aspen and Snowmass Village will be fully funded for three years by a half-cent sales tax collected throughout the upper valley, area elected officials agreed Thursday. After that, Snowmass Village is expected to pick up any shortfall in the subsidy.

The agreement came after lengthy discussion, but no heated dissension, at a meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of elected officials from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.

The group controls the proceeds of the tax, most of which goes toward helping fund operations of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority. The revised 2010 budget endorsed by the committee last night reflects $4.5 million in revenues, including the sales tax and a use tax. Of that, $2.8 million will go to RFTA.

The remainder, after other ongoing expenses are deducted, is to be split, with two-thirds of the sum being set aside for an eventual transit component at the Entrance to Aspen. The remaining one-third is not enough to cover year-round free bus service between the two resorts, which costs close to $600,000, but EOTC members agreed to cover the shortfall for three years on the condition that Snowmass Village will seek a way to cover the deficit after three years.

Aspen Councilmen Torre and Steve Skadron and county Commissioner Jack Hatfield voted against the agreement, calling instead to guarantee funding for two years – 2010 and 2011.

“I think we can tide Snowmass over with its difficulties with transportation on a temporary basis, but not forever,” said Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, proposing the solution.

The shortfall this year is close to $30,000 – an amount that will come out of what the EOTC is saving for the entrance project.

This year’s EOTC budget already includes $285,331 to pay for the free bus service for the remainder of the winter, from Jan. 1 to April 11. Unallocated funds that can be used for the service total $268,042. That leaves a $29,419 shortfall, calculated Tom Oken, county treasurer.

“Snowmass Village is not being asked to meet a great burden…,” Ireland said.

With no solution at the Entrance to Aspen, the free bus service helps ease existing congestion and travel between the two communities, noted county Commissioner Michael Ireland.

“The free bus service is actually a solution to that as it exists today. It’s helpful to the community to survive that Entrance to Aspen situation,” he said.

The bus service benefits both Snowmass Village and Aspen guests, as well as locals, added Markey Butler, a Snowmass Town Council member.

“It’s not just a Snowmass problem,” she said of the funding shortfall. “It’s everybody’s problem.”

The EOTC, with Tuesday’s action, also reiterated its commitment to funding a transit solution at the Entrance to Aspen. The city intends to put options before voters in November, Ireland said.

The EOTC has accumulated a reserve of close to $10 million. That balance, plus future revenues, could be leveraged to borrow money if voters settle on a highway alignment and transit component at the entrance.

janet@aspentimes.com


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