RFTA expansion opposed by two on its board
ASPEN ” A ballot proposal to expand public bus service has received the blessing of numerous local elected officials ” with a few glaring exceptions.
Snowmass Village Councilman and mayoral candidate Arnold Mordkin are not backing Referendum 4A, the proposal to raise the sales taxes valleywide and issue $44.55 million in bonds to fund an expansion of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus system. Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson also is opposed to 4A.
Their opposition to the RFTA question is particularly eye catching because they both sit on the RFTA board of directors ” Mordkin as a regular voting member and Wilkinson as an alternate.
Mordkin said his opposition to the expansion proposal doesn’t mean he is anti-RFTA or opposed to mass transit. He opposes 4A, in large part, because of timing.
“Clearly I think it’s the wrong time to be asking for it,” Mordkin said, noting that the economy is hurting. A decline in business this winter will likely reduce the demands for service on RFTA, he said.
Mordkin’s foe in the mayoral race, Bill Boineau, endorsed the RFTA question.
Mordkin also opposed the measure because it would push the sales tax rate in Snowmass Village past 10 percent. The rate is 9.99 percent now. It’s likely to exceed 10 percent this fall because of other ballot proposals, he said, but he wants to minimize the hike. The high sales tax rate irritates some customers of Snowmass Village businesses enough to drive them into Aspen to shop, Mordkin claimed.
His final reason for opposing the RFTA question is a widely-held perception that funding for the bus agency is inequitable. Mordkin is among a faction of the RFTA board that feels the agency is unfairly subsidizing service to Rifle and many parts of Garfield County even though they aren’t paying members of the agency.
“They’re getting service that we’re paying for,” Mordkin said.
The paying members, which include all the towns from Aspen to New Castle as well as Pitkin and Eagle counties are essentially subsidizing service to the other jurisdictions. Garfield County makes voluntary contributions for service.
Wilkinson said asking for a sales tax increase of any size is unwise right now because of the state of the economy. He also is against 4A because of the Snowmass Village sales tax dilemma and recent financial decisions by the RFTA board. He said they have engaged in “capricious spending,” particularly by approving a program that assists employees with house purchases.
Like Mordkin, Wilkinson said his opposition to the ballot measure doesn’t reflect his stance on mass transit. He said about 20 percent of the town’s budget goes to its internal transportation system, a move that he supports. He also believes RFTA provides a valuable service.
“I’ve been a RFTA fan from way back,” said Wilkinson, who is seeking re-election this fall.
Pitkin County Commissioner Jack Hatfield is another local official opposed to the RFTA expansion ballot measure. He stressed he isn’t actively campaigning against it.
“I simply don’t think its time for all these tax increases,” he said. “It’s terrible timing.”
The RFTA expansion plan has received backing from at least 17 local elected officials, including all elected officials on the RFTA board of directors except Mordkin and Wilkinson. The supporters listed in an endorsement ad are Pitkin County Commissioners Dorothea Farris, Rachel Richards and Michael Owsley; Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher; Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt; and Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland and Aspen Councilman Dwayne Romero.
Other supporters include Snowmass Village Councilwoman Sally Sparhawk; Carbondale Mayor Michael Hassig, Carbondale Councilman John Hoffman; New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin; Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen, Glenwood Councilman Dave Sturges; Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux, Basalt Councilman Gary Tennenbaum, Basalt Councilwoman Katie Schwoerer and Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.
Whitsitt is a RFTA board member who is helping head the pro-RFTA ballot campaign. She said isn’t concerned about the opposition from a handful of elected officials given the broad support.
“I think it’s of no consequence,” Whitsitt said of opposition from Mordkin and Wilkinson. She noted that more than 60 percent of Snowmass Village residents surveyed at random last year supported a sales tax increase for RFTA.
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In the six weeks since Independence Pass has been open this season, the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office already has received 15 reports of semi-trucks trying to or actually driving over the pass.