RFTA poll shows Roaring Fork Valley residents divided on property tax for bus system | AspenTimes.com

RFTA poll shows Roaring Fork Valley residents divided on property tax for bus system


When 305 likely voters were asked in May and June if they would support a new property tax to raise roughly $14 million annually for RFTA’s bus system, the results were:

20% were definite yes, 20% were probable yes and 4% were leaning yes.

28% were definite no, 9% were probable no and 6% were leaning no.

13% were undecided

RFTA has some work to do if it’s going to earn voter approval in November for a property tax to operate and enhance the public bus system, according to results of its latest poll.

A survey conducted by Vitale & Associates in May and June on behalf of RFTA showed that a ballot question proposing to raise $14 million annually through a property tax was in a dead heat with likely voters. It was favored by 44 percent of the 305 respondents and opposed by 43 percent with 13 percent undecided.

Likely voters also were surveyed in January. At that time, support for a new property tax was 48 to 41 percent in favor with 11 percent unsure.

“It really didn’t see major movement from the earlier poll,” Todd Vitale, principal in Vitale & Associates, a polling firm, told the RFTA board of directors Thursday. “Voters are evenly divided about this.”

He said it was difficult to compare the two polls because only the latter one had a specific dollar amount attached to it.

Vitale said there is still plenty of time to educate voters about the issue — and that “messaging” could be the key to success. Only 47 percent of the respondents said they were very familiar or somewhat familiar with RFTA’s property tax proposal.

“In that sense, we’re at the beginning of the second quarter,” Vitale said, drawing a parallel to a four-quarter sports contest.

When survey respondents who said they weren’t familiar with the issue were provided with information and then were asked again how they would vote, support increased to 51 with 41 percent opposed and the remainder unsure, Vitale said.

Another question in the survey found that protecting the environment and outdoor recreation space was the most important issue for respondents, cited by 22 percent. Improving local schools was next at 17 percent.

In contrast, improving the local economy and providing jobs was cited by 5 percent. Improving local transportation and decreasing automobile congestion was cited as the most important issue by only 3 percent of respondents.

However, 82 percent of respondents said traffic congestion in the Roaring Fork Valley was an “extremely serious” problem (19 percent), a “very serious” problem (28 percent) or a “somewhat serious” problem (35 percent).

And 74 percent of respondents gave RFTA an “A” or “B” for the job it does running the bus system, the results showed.

Bill Ray, a campaign consultant for RFTA’s “Destination 2040” initiative, said there is ample time to educate voters about the issues before the election.

“It’s taken us awhile to get to the plan. Now we have to talk about the plan,” he said.

The RFTA board — which is comprised of elected officials from its member jurisdictions — decided at a retreat in May to seek approval of a property tax in November. It compromised on a mill levy of 3.65, which will raise an estimated $13 million to $14 million annually. RFTA officials say they need a new revenue source to keep up with demand for service and undertake special transit projects from Aspen to New Castle. The agency currently has a local sales tax but not a property tax.

The board has until August to confirm it will place a question on the November ballot and, if so, at what mill levy.

Board members made little comment on the latest poll results Thursday but will resume discussion at their July meeting.