Garfield County denies RFTA’s $614K funding request | AspenTimes.com

Garfield County denies RFTA’s $614K funding request

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is still not sure where its next meal is coming from, in terms of some needed fiscal nourishment to maintain an endangered operation.

Garfield County on Monday rejected RFTA’s request to kick in $614,000 to the bus service’s 2010 budget, despite a threat that the Hogback service to the western parts of the county could be significantly trimmed back as a result.

Currently, the county, Silt and Rifle all have rejected RFTA’s invitations to join the authority as paying members. The county paid in $465,000 for RFTA’s service for 2009, while Rifle kicked in $20,000 and Silt paid nothing.

According to a letter from RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship to Garfield County, the service’s operating costs for 2010 are expected to be approximately $727,000, after roughly $186,000 in fares is subtracted.

The agency is counting on $93,000 from New Castle’s RFTA sales and use-tax revenues, $465,000 from Garfield County, and $20,000 from Rifle, leaving a deficit of just under $150,000.

Having already reduced some routes on the Hogback line to save money, RFTA has proposed to run buses from Glenwood Springs only to New Castle starting in April 2010, unless the county, Silt and Rifle together come up with $150,000 to pay for continued service.

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“It’s a breach of contract,” was the declaration from Commissioner John Martin, referring to RFTA’s earlier decision to cut the frequency of the Hogback service without talking to Garfield County first.

Martin also criticized RFTA’s handling of its schedule in general, noting that he had ridden buses on several routes and pointing out that he often saw buses running empty or nearly empty.

“There are times that the buses don’t need to be running,” he told Blankenship.

Plus, Martin reiterated an old argument of his, complaining that “there are a million free rides in Aspen every year,” referring to free in-town routes that are subsidized by the city government.

“If Aspen needs a workforce, then Aspen needs to pay for it,” Martin commented, implying that Aspen residents should pay to ride and thereby boost the agency’s income to subsidize downvalley routes.

Bruce Christensen, mayor of Glenwood Springs and a RFTA board member, said of Aspen’s in-town routes, “They’re not free,” pointing out that Glenwood has a bus service that is free to riders, but is paid for by city funds.

Martin, undeterred, declared that rather than work with RFTA, “I think it’s time to go ahead and do it ourselves,” meaning a bus service managed and funded by Garfield County.

That way, he indicated, the bus schedule would reflect the county’s ability to pay, which he said might mean buses would run “maybe once every two hours.”

And, he said, buses would run strictly between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, with no stops in between, as a further attempt to conserve money.

Commissioner Tresi Houpt, who was the lone supporter of RFTA’s funding request, countered, “I don’t think it would be practical for Garfield County to split off from RFTA. … I don’t think that would be a good expenditure of funds.”

She said that many people in the county need RFTA to get to work, and argued that Garfield County needs to become a member of RFTA in order to have input into its decision making.

Commissioner Mike Samson, who remained silent for the early parts of the exchange, said the county needs to talk with the governments of Silt, Rifle and Parachute, as well as representatives of unincorporated Battlement Mesa, to determine their positions regarding payments to keep the Hogback service at current levels.

The Hogback Route does not go to the Parachute area now.

Then, he said, the county and RFTA can reopen negotiations for a Hogback service contract for 2010.

But, he pledged to Blankenship and RFTA board members at the meeting, “There will be funding for … RFTA” in the Garfield County budget for 2010. “We won’t leave you hanging out to dry.”

jcolson@postindependent.com