RFTA and Garfield County play ‘chicken’ over bus funding
CARBONDALE – Some Roaring Fork Transportation Authority officials acknowledged Thursday they are playing a game of “chicken” with Garfield County, Silt and Rifle over bus service.
RFTA delivered an ultimatum this fall to the county and two towns to pay an additional $149,000 for bus service or the Hogback route west of New Castle would be cut April 12. Garfield County has indicated it will pay $100,000 in addition to the $465,000 it had already pledged for transit for 2010, RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said Thursday. Rifle typically pays $20,000 annually. Silt pays nothing.
That leaves a shortfall of $49,000, even with the extra funds from Garfield County.
RFTA’s board of directors, meeting Thursday in Carbondale, reaffirmed its negotiating position. It directed Blankenship to reinforce that it requires $149,000, rather than $100,000, from the three entities to keep the Hogback service alive. Board members declined to discuss if there is any room for negotiations if Garfield County, Rifle and Silt don’t come up with the extra funds.
“We’re going to play chicken until the first-quarter meeting,” said Jon Stavney, Eagle County commissioner and member of RFTA’s board of directors.
The municipalities of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle, as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties, are members of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the district that operates RFTA bus service. They collect a sales tax to help fund the operation. They expanded bus service to Rifle earlier this decade even though Garfield County, Rifle and Silt aren’t members of the district. The members essentially subsidize the Hogback service.
That subsidy feeds the misperception that RFTA exists as a tool to help employers in the upper Roaring Fork Valley “mine that part of Garfield County for workers,” said Michael Owsley, Pitkin County commissioner and RFTA board member.
Dwayne Romero, Aspen councilman and RFTA board member, countered that moving workers is, realistically, one of the functions of the bus service. The upper valley’s construction and tourism industries typically provide jobs, and western Garfield County typically supplies workers. The formula changed significantly during the natural gas boom prior to the recession. The gas patch activity created a severe worker shortage from Glenwood Springs to Aspen.
Owsley later said the point he was trying to make was the upper valley isn’t the sole beneficiary of bus service. Western Garfield County residents bring their earnings back to their communities and help develop their economies through spending. RFTA service plays a role in a mutually beneficial relationship, he said.
RFTA board member and Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said the true beneficiaries of mass transit are all the residents who cannot afford private vehicles and depend on buses to travel for work, pleasure, shopping and errands. They are the ones who will suffer the consequences if the governments cannot work out the funding, she said.
RFTA’s board voted 7-0 to have Blankenship seek the additional $49,000 to continue Hogback service past ski season.
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