RFTA board vows ‘free ride’ limited for Garfield County
Some officials with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority lashed out Thursday at what they perceive as a free ride for the governments of Garfield County, Silt and Rifle when it comes to bus service.RFTA board of directors Chairwoman Dorothea Farris, who is also a Pitkin County commissioner, vented her anger at two Garfield County commissioners for opposing a Nov. 2 ballot question asking if Garfield County residents wanted to start a sales tax to join and help fund RFTA.Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown voted to place the measure on the ballot but advised their constituents to vote against it. The measure lost by about 1,800 votes.”Outspoken opposition from the leadership of Garfield County offends me,” said Farris.She suggested RFTA might eventually want to take a hard line on service. “You don’t want it, you don’t get it,” she said. “I think we need to look very seriously at where the service goes.”RFTA currently operates the Hogback bus service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle. An estimated 50,000 riders will take those buses this year, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.Glenwood Springs, which probably benefits greatest from the service, has been a funding member of RFTA since a sales tax was approved throughout the Roaring Fork Valley in 2000. Glenwood residents narrowly approved increasing the sales tax dedicated to the bus agency on Nov. 2.New Castle residents also voted Nov. 2 to join RFTA and institute a sales tax to help fund bus service.Silt residents defeated a similar proposal, even though the Hogback service benefits the town. Rifle has never placed the question before its citizens.RFTA board member and Basalt Town Councilwoman Anne Freedman agreed with Farris that the day may come when the bus company needs to tell Garfield County, Silt and Rifle they won’t receive service if they don’t pay a reasonable amount.RFTA will ask Rifle to pay $75,000 in 2005 (the amount was incorrectly reported in Thursday’s Aspen Times). Garfield County contributed $25,000 this year but has made no commitment for funds next year, according to Blankenship.Freedman said Garfield County, Silt and Rifle don’t have any incentive to implement a tax because they figure RFTA will maintain the bus service even if they don’t chip in. “They know they are getting a free ride,” she said.She suggested RFTA seek an amount from each of the nonpaying governments equal to what would have been generated by the 0.4 percent sales tax proposed in the Nov. 2 election.RFTA members can vent all they want but they are limited in what they can do, at least for the next 18 months. Blankenship said a pre-election agreement between RFTA and New Castle indicates the Hogback service will be maintained even if it was the only new government to join RFTA.Further review of that agreement showed it was contingent on Garfield County joining RFTA. “We left wiggle room,” said Farris.But Blankenship argued it would be bad strategy to cut Hogback service within the next 18 months if RFTA wants to convince Garfield County, Silt and Rifle to join.He also argued that RFTA owed it to Glenwood and New Castle to maintain the Hogback service.Board members agreed they won’t reduce the service for at least 18 months. Farris suggested Blankenship meet with the Glenwood Springs and New Castle councils and find out what level of Hogback service they demand, given the election results.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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