Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s 20-year plan could lead to increased property taxes |

Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s 20-year plan could lead to increased property taxes

Carolyn Sackariason
The Aspen Times

Transportation officials are gearing up for a potential property tax increase this fall that would pay for upgrades to the regional bus system.

On Monday night, Aspen City Council was the last stop for representatives of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority who have been presenting their “Integrated Transportation System Plan” since November.

The plan will take RFTA through the next 20 or 25 years, and comes at a price starting at $134 million, but could be higher depending on what voters may have the stomach for.

RFTA’s board of directors is considering asking voters for a mill levy increase this November. Polling has been conducted within RFTA’s jurisdiction to see how voters feel about a property tax increase. The poll results will be presented at a RFTA board meeting Thursday.

The plan calls for more than 70 improvements to the RFTA system, and at least 10 will benefit the city of Aspen, according to Ralph Trapani, a consultant with Parsons, the firm that’s been hired by RFTA.

Those improvements include increasing Bus Rapid Transit service on weekends in the shoulder seasons to accommodate workers commuting to Aspen, better management of the upper valley parking lots, real-time vehicle and bus travel time information, and an expanded Aspen maintenance facility.

Other big-ticket items are new electric buses, pedestrian crossings and trails, bike-share programs and alternative-transit options, an expansion of maintenance facilities, and employee housing and office space.

RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said the plan not only carries RFTA into 2038, it accounts for anticipated population and ridership growth.

“This is setting us up to provide high-quality services, multi-modal services in the future,” he told the council.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she hopes that if a ballot question does go before voters, the conversation changes from “the plan costs a lot of money to pay for a lot of improvements” to “it’s an investment into something much larger.”

“This is a whole mobility system,” she said. “They add up to a much stronger system throughout the region.”

Trapani agreed.

“If the board decides to go with a mill levy increase, messaging will be very important,” he said.

The RFTA board is contemplating either a 1, 3 or 5 mill levy, the latter of which equates to $36 annually per $100,000 of residential property for a homeowner. Commercial property owners would pay a higher rate.

If the RFTA board decides to go for a mill levy increase, about 33,000 voters will be deciding the ballot question. RFTA’s jurisdiction includes New Castle, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, portions of Eagle County, Basalt, unincorporated Pitkin County, Snowmass Village and Aspen.

Currently, RFTA is funded by sales tax revenue from those communities, as well as grants, service agreements, a mass transit tax and operating revenue, according to Trapani’s presentation.

Trapani said other potential revenue sources were considered outside of the mill levy increase but they didn’t get much traction. They include a toll road, utility fees, a special-improvement district, lodging taxes, increased parking fees, and advertising, naming rights and private contributions.

“Not really popular,” he said of the other options.

RFTA is in the third stage of the transportation plan. The final stage involves establishing a financial plan, which will then be brought to the entities in RFTA’s jurisdiction.