Offseason bus service trimmed again
Aspen will cut back its offseason bus service next year and probably for the foreseeable future, the City Council reluctantly decided Tuesday.The council grappled with various unresolved issues in its 2005 budget last night. Members were split on the topic of offseason bus service, with Councilman Terry Paulson absent. Ultimately, they agreed to eliminate early morning and late-night bus rides in the spring and fall, which will save about $172,000 and help stem the red ink in the city’s transportation budget.The offseason reductions were also implemented in 2002 and 2003, before the council reinstated full service this year with the caveat that it would only be retained if riders took advantage of it. They haven’t.The cuts mean buses will run from 7 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday, in the spring and fall, and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. The Mountain Valley Dial-A-Ride will operate from 7 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. daily throughout the offseasons in 2005.Riders who are used to bus service until 2 a.m. will, however, be able to grab a late-night taxi ride at Rubey Park on the city’s tab. In 2003, 126 people took a taxi at a cost of about $3,000 to the city.Mayor Helen Klanderud lobbied to retain full service on the city’s free in-town routes throughout the offseasons for one more year. But Councilman Tim Semrau eventually changed his mind and sided with colleagues Torre and Rachel Richards in calling for the service cutbacks.The city’s transportation budget wouldn’t balance even if ridership jumped during the offseasons, Richards noted, pushing for the cutback.”Ridership could go up 100 percent. It won’t make a dime’s worth of difference because it’s all free,” she said.”This is a fund that is ripe for action now in terms of change,” city finance director Paul Menter advised the council. “If there’s one place in our budget where I would say this might be time to ring the alarm bell, this is it.”Among the assorted other expenditures requiring a council decision last night were $838,602 worth of new general fund requests. The council cut $300,000 earmarked for improvements to the S-curves, but acknowledged that expense could return next year as a supplemental budget request.Various additional expenditures among city departments got the nod, but requests for $50,000 from Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival were both trimmed to $25,000 by the council.Jazz Aspen was looking for a city subsidy for its free concerts on the mall and JAS After Dark performances at clubs and restaurants during its June Festival in Aspen; the council agreed to put up $25,000 for concerts on the mall stage.Comedy Fest was looking for half of the estimated cost of erecting a tent at Wagner Park that will become one of its main venues for its 11th annual run in February. Two former venues in the renovated St. Regis Hotel are no longer available, explained Joe Lang, director of communications and operations for the event. The Wagner Park tent and an anticipated new venue in the old Double Diamond space have been pegged for the festival instead, he said.Both expenditures received considerable debate. “I think we need to have a deeper discussion about what part of our budget we spend on special events,” Torre said.The council is scheduled to formally adopt a 2005 budget on Monday that totals $99.5 million, including all of its funds. The operating budget, which essentially funds the city’s municipal operations, totals $32.3 million – about $300,000 more than the city expects to spend this year. Among the largest expenses is a 30 percent increase in health-insurance costs.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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