No more budget blues for RFTA |

No more budget blues for RFTA

Instead of wrestling with a projected $1 million deficit for 2005, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority now believes it will have a $568,000 surplus, thanks in large part to valley voters.RFTA was in such a financial jam that the bus agency would have been a shell of its old self if Roaring Fork Valley voters failed to approve a sales tax increase Nov. 2, according to Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.But the influx of sales taxes, along with other revenues, will allow the agency to increase spending from $17.34 million this year to $23.94 million next year, according to RFTA. That is an increase of $6.6 million or 38 percent.The bigger budget will allow the agency to replace part of its aging fleet of buses, give employees their first cost-of-living pay increase in two years, add to a valley-long trail and build a reserve fund. The agency will not expand its bus service, Blankenship said. The sales tax increase merely allows the agency to maintain current schedules.RFTA plans to spend $5.65 million on new buses, including four electric-diesel hybrids and 10 using standard technology.Employees will receive a 4 percent cost-of-living pay increase, and RFTA will absorb the entire 20.5 percent increase in health-care costs. The agency had a salary and wage freeze in place last year.The bus agency has 180 employees year-round and 210 at peak times. The new budget allows for an employee to be hired to help with management of the old railroad corridor and another to be hired for maintenance of park-and-ride facilities.RFTA will more than double the amount of money it puts into trail construction next year. The agency expected to spend about $402,000 on trails this year; that will swell to $913,000 next year.Mike Hermes, RFTA’s director of properties and trails, said the section of trail between Carbondale and the Catherine Bridge should be completed in 2005.Hermes said there is also a chance that a 1.1-mile trail extension on the railroad right of way in the midvalley could be paved this fall, depending on the weather. That section of trail is between Emma and the Hooks Bridge, just off Willits Lane.RFTA also plans to swallow a 41.5 percent increase in fuel costs next year. The total expenditure on diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is expected to be about $1,069,000.Blankenship told RFTA’s board of directors Thursday the best news about the latest budget projections is the agency will be able to operate in the black for the next decade due to the extra revenues.Voters in all town and county governments from Aspen to Glenwood Springs approved increasing the sales tax for bus service from 0.4 to 0.6 percent. That increase in the levy combined with 3 percent growth expected in sales means RFTA sales tax revenues will grow from $8.62 million this year to an estimated $9.69 million next year.Valley voters first approved a sales tax for bus service in 2000. The agency had to ask voters to bail it out just four years later because the economic slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America sent revenues plummeting below projections.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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