Garco won’t pony up for RFTA | AspenTimes.com

Garco won’t pony up for RFTA

Donna GrayGlenwood Springs correspondent

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority CEO Dan Blankenship made his annual appeal to the Garfield County Commissioners for support of valleywide bus service Monday.As in the past, two of the commissioners refused to support the request.Commissioner Trési Houpt urged her fellow commissioners to reverse direction and give the agency some help, but they would not relent.”It’s no secret to anyone that I believe we should contribute to [RFTA] operations or help with a bus stop or park and ride [lot],” she said.”This keeps coming up. [Carbondale town trustee] Alice [Laird] comes before us every year to plead her case and Dan, you do the same thing,” said Commissioner Larry McCown. He reminded Blankenship and Laird that during the 2004 election the voters in unincorporated Garfield County turned down a proposal to fund bus service with a sales tax.”There is no credibility given to the election. You come back asking us to fund RFTA. The county [voters] said no,” he said.Blankenship said the agency’s cost for fuel has increased 47 percent since Hurricane Katrina shut down the majority of oil refineries in the Gulf Coast, prompting a spike in gas prices.”People are beginning to feel the pinch,” Blankenship said, and some will choose to ride the bus instead of drive their cars.However, because of higher fuel and other increasing costs, RFTA will have to raise fares in 2006. Instead of the usual 3 to 4 percent price hike, fares will go up 10 percent, Blankenship predicted.As an alternative to committing money to RFTA, Blankenship asked the commissioners to consider helping finance bus stops at the Colorado Mountain College turnoff at Highway 82, on both sides of the highway. The full cost of two shelters there would run about $50,000, and “we would not expect the county to pay for the whole thing,” he said.Laird, a former RFTA planner who now serves on the Carbondale town board, also urged the county to pitch in.She said it “was not quite fair to use the 2004 vote” as the reason not to support RFTA. Carbondale, New Castle and Glenwood Springs voters supported the sales tax to fund RFTA.”Those people contribute significantly to county taxes,” she said.But Commissioner John Martin countered that some people who live in the county and shop in the municipalities also feel they contribute to the transit taxes collected there.The 2004 ballot question, McCown said, “was proposed by RFTA,” and the people made their wishes clear.But the county tacked on an additional 10 percent to the tax to fund trails, Blankenship said, which was one of the reasons it did not pass.”It was doomed to failure because the amount was too high and because some of the people voting [in unincorporated Garfield County] do not get bus service,” Blankenship said.People voted down a dedicated sales tax, but not financing out of the county’s general fund, he said.”I feel bad for you folks, but our fuel costs are going up comparable to yours,” McCown said. “I don’t get it or your guys don’t get it, but the people have spoken.”However, earlier in the day, the commissioners voted to give RFTA $50,000 toward completion of a section of the Rio Grande Trail between the Catherine Store bridge in Carbondale and Hooks Spur in Basalt. When completed, the 35-mile trail will run between Aspen and Glenwood Springs along the former Denver & Rio Grande railroad corridor.