Pitkin County will remain RFTA’s biggest supporter | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County will remain RFTA’s biggest supporter

John Klusmire

Aspen and Pitkin County will continue to pay the bulk of the valley’s bus bill even if voters eventually approve a regional transportation tax.

The majority of the money for a valleywide bus system would come from Pitkin County because it generates more sales, and thus more sales tax dollars, than any other entity in the valley.

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency is launching a study of the feasibility of forming a Rural Transportation Authority. If that new governmental entity becomes a reality, it will be able to levy a sales tax to raise the money needed to run RFTA’s buses.

Formation of the authority is in the early stages. There are multiple taxing plans that could be implemented if the authority is approved by the voters, said Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s general manager. The question could go before voters as early as this spring.

However, if Pitkin County is part of the authority, it can expect to continue to provide the largest tax subsidy to the bus system. Upvalley governments currently provide about 90 percent of the subsidies that RFTA needs to operate its bus system, said Blankenship.

For example, if a transportation district gets voter approval to impose a sales tax of four-tenths of a cent, Pitkin County can expect to contribute more than twice as much tax money to the district as Glenwood Springs.

In 1998, Pitkin County generated about $590 million in taxable sales (that figure is based on RFTA receiving $5.9 million from Pitkin County’s 1 percent transit sales tax.) Glenwood, on the other hand, generated just $240 million.

Blankenship said contributions from the towns of Basalt and Carbondale, based on a four-tenths sales tax, might top out at about $200,000 a year.

“It’s going to be complicated,” said Blankenship of trying to figure out the taxing equation to be used by the proposed authority. The complications arise because of taxes already in place to fund mass transit.

Pitkin County currently imposes a 1 percent transit sales tax; the proceeds go directly into RFTA’s coffers. In addition, the county uses the proceeds of a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1993 for a variety of mass transit related uses, including about $1 million for RFTA.

Right now, RFTA and its consultants are working up various scenarios with several combinations of taxes in the mix. For example, Pitkin County’s transit taxes could be replaced by the four-tenths tax. Or some of the current taxes could remain in effect and Pitkin County wouldn’t have to generate the new tax, Blankenship added.

At this point, though, talk of new taxes is putting the cash before the bus, so to speak.

RFTA’s first task is to define the boundaries of the transportation authority. Since RFTA currently serves the valley from Glenwood to Aspen, that would seem the most likely area to be included in a transit authority, Blankenship said.

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