New tax or fewer buses
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority will consider laying off up to 18 percent of its workers and drastically cutting valleywide bus service if a proposed sales tax increase fails in the November election, officials said Thursday.The bus agency projects it will face a $966,000 deficit next year without an infusion of new revenues, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship. That’s a smaller deficit than was projected earlier this year but still enough to require substantial reductions, Blankenship told the board of directors. To pare down that deficit, he said the agency will have to get by with fewer employees by making fewer seasonal hires and through attrition. The agency employs 210 people at peak times in the winter. A reduction of 18 percent would mean 38 fewer jobs.Blankenship said he would recommend cutting hours of operation for buses between Aspen and points downvalley if the ballot measure fails. Currently buses run from 6:15 a.m. until 2:15 a.m. He said a reduction from 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. may be necessary.In addition, he would recommend operating buses hourly rather than every half-hour between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., he told RFTA’s board of directors.RFTA board members squirmed a bit Thursday because they want to convey how dire the organization’s financial situation is without blackmailing voters.”I don’t want to wave that as a bogeyman,” RFTA board member and Snowmass Village Councilman Arnie Mordkin said while discussing the possible cuts. “It’s not a threat.”RFTA is asking voters in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County to approve a 0.2 percent sales tax increase on Nov. 2. Voters in Pitkin County will be asked to approve a 0.165 percent increase. Those areas already belong and contribute to RFTA.Voters in New Castle, Silt and Garfield County will be asked to join RFTA by approving a new sales tax.A group of transit supporters and RFTA officials working on their own time have formed a group called Citizens for Trails and Transit to campaign in favor of the ballot question.RFTA board chairwoman and Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris said the agency has no choice but to plan its 2005 budget under two scenarios – one assuming the ballot measure passes and one assuming it fails. And it must let voters know what will happen under both circumstances.If the extra sales taxes are approved, RFTA projects a $861,000 surplus for 2005.If the proposal fails, the question is when the cuts will be made. Blankenship said he would advise keeping a full bus schedule through this winter and then making the cuts in the spring, summer and fall.He reasoned RFTA has to start recruiting employees and planning bus routes before the outcome of the Nov. 2 election is held.Board members said they understood the dilemma, but the majority said they would favor implementing budget cuts on Jan. 1 if the ballot question fails. They said it would be too difficult to spare winter service and cram all the cuts into the remainder of the year.Blankenship said the cuts will be difficult to make, whenever they are required. “It’s not going to be fun and nobody’s going to be happy with it,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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