May vote on RTA called off |

May vote on RTA called off

Sarah S. Chung

Voters may be asked to make sweeping changes in the way mass transit is funded in the Roaring Fork Valley, but not this May.

Plans for a spring ballot question posing formation of a Rural Transportation Authority are on hold.

“Last fall the timeline was set for a May election, but then people began asking if the timing was right, why there would be two elections instead of one, and if there was enough time to rally support,” said Dan Blankenship, general manager of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency. “What became clear was that May was too soon.”

In the works now are efforts to form two new RTA committees – one made up of representatives from participating governments and one a citizens advisory group.

The RTA is a proposed taxing district to fund mass transit that would encompass seven Roaring Fork Valley jurisdictions: Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Eagle County, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

What’s changed from past plans is a possible simplification in the creation of the district itself, a re-evaluation of the scope of the district and a possible actions in the Colorado Legislature that would allow additional sources of revenue for the RTA.

It’s no secret that the Roaring Fork Transit Agency, which runs the valley’s bus service, has been having financial difficulty for years. It’s also no secret that upper-valley governments are becoming less willing to “bail out” RFTA in order to maintain services valleywide and hold down fares.

So last year, representatives from all seven valley governments agreed to pursue a transportation district that would not be dependent on individual government contributions.

The initial plan was was to ask voters in May to form an RTA and fund it with a $10 vehicle registration fee. A .4 percent sales tax, to provide additional revenue, was to go to voters in a November ballot.

But when RTA representatives brought back the proposal to their individual government boards, the consensus disappeared.

Disagreement arose over whether to hold one election or two. Some want to see what changes state lawmakers enact in RTA funding mechanisms before proceeding. Others want further discussion regarding the extent to which RFTA and the Roaring Fork Railroad Holding Authority, which owns the valley rail corridor, will be enveloped within the new transportation district.

On the state level, legislators are considering proposals for a visitor’s tax, applied to hotel rooms, and a hike in the maximum sales tax available for an RTA to .75 percent.

“It’s not fair to say we’re back at square one. It’s more that people really started to tackle the difficult issues and there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered,” said Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards.

Right now, local governments are selecting representatives for a new RTA steering committee and making appointments to the citizens committee.

Blankenship said he is still hoping an RTA election can be held in November, but much will depend on how soon the two committees come to agreement on the basic organization of the RTA.

“We need to get away from the us vs. them mentality,'” said Aspen Councilman Jim Markalunas. “It’s really all one valley. We have to think in the larger sense – that we’re one community and that we need each other.”

Anyone interested in being a member of the citizens advisory committee should call 963-9012.

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