RFTA board overrules pay hike plan | AspenTimes.com

RFTA board overrules pay hike plan

CARBONDALE – The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s board of directors Thursday overruled a management proposal to give workers a raise of up to 2 percent in 2011.

The decision will save roughly $200,000. However, board members were equally concerned about letting the public know the public bus agency is tightening its belt in a tough economic time.

Thursday was the RFTA board’s first look at a budget for 2011. CEO Dan Blankenship and Finance Director John Tangen advised taking a “conservative approach” because of ongoing uncertainty over sales tax revenues and fare collections. Their proposal included flexibility to offer merit raises of up to 2 percent for RFTA’s 185, full-time, year-round workers.

Tangen said he “beat up” on RFTA’s various departments during the preliminary budget process to reduce operating expenses so that raises could be considered. Wages were frozen in 2010. RFTA’s employees qualified for raises of up to 4 percent in 2009.

Even so, the idea of offering raises in a sour economy immediately caught the attention of the board.

Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member Michael Owsley said the merit raises don’t reconcile with a conservative approach. “That seems contradictory to me,” he said. “I don’t think you can put it in the budget as a 2 percent increase.”

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Basalt Councilwoman and RFTA vice-chair Jacque Whitsitt also sounded the alarm, from both a personal and political standpoint. “It makes me feel verklempt,” she said.

Whitsitt asked representatives of each member jurisdiction to report on what they are doing with worker compensation in 2011. Eagle and Pitkin County are freezing wages, as are Basalt, Carbondale and New Castle. Aspen is considering an increase; Glenwood Springs hasn’t decided yet.

Given those reports, Whitsitt said, it didn’t seem like RFTA should be giving raises. “I feel politically funny about this one,” she said.

Snowmass Village Councilman and RFTA member John Wilkinson said giving RFTA employees a raise would give him “heartburn” because the town government is looking at furloughs as well as salary freezes in 2011 for its own employees.

Glenwood Springs Councilman and RFTA member Dave Sturges agreed that political equity needs to be considered. In addition, he noted, many workers in the public and private sectors aren’t getting raises these days.

“The sad reality is most people are happy if they get a job right now,” Sturges said.

The board left the door open for possible raises for RFTA employees. RFTA will re-examine its revenues mid-way through 2011 and see if they are ahead of budget. If so, bonuses will be considered for employees.

The preliminary budget assumes bus service levels will remain the same as in 2010, when they were pared. If revenues fall from 2010 levels, service reductions will have to be considered, Blankenship said. RFTA is maintaining a $3.5 million operating reserve, which would be it operating for a year even if revenues dropped another 20 percent.

scondon@aspentimes.com