RFTA passes budget for 2003 | AspenTimes.com

RFTA passes budget for 2003

Brent Gardner-Smith

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority passed a balanced 2003 budget Thursday, but only after imposing new fees, cutting back service and getting help from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County.

RFTA, which provides regional bus service from Aspen to Rifle, was $900,000 away from a balanced budget a few months ago. But its $15.7 million budget is now fiscally sound.

“This is exactly what we asked for,” said RFTA board member Jonathan Fox-Rubin. “A balanced budget that looks believable.”

However, the board again made a call for RFTA to develop a stable funding scenario, which is something that RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship concurs with.

“We have to try and find a way to put things in balance for the long run,” he said.

The transportation authority found $100,000 in additional revenues for next year through the imposition of a $10 vehicle registration fee that will affect car owners in Pitkin County, the Basalt portion of Eagle County, and in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs.

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RFTA was given the authority to impose the fee when the regional body was approved by voters two years ago. The fee is expected to be imposed beginning in the middle of next year.

The second big boost to RFTA’s budget came last month at a meeting of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, or EOTC.

That body is made up of the elected officials of Aspen, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village. The EOTC manages about $3 million in local sales tax revenues dedicated to mass transit initiatives.

After receiving a request from RFTA, the EOTC agreed to kick in $250,000 to match money from a federal grant to upgrade some of the 75 buses in RFTA’s fleet.

The EOTC also approved $30,000 to keep the bus service between downtown Aspen and the airport free of charge and gave another $15,000 to help cover the cost of lobbying for federal transit funding.

The third significant action that helped balance RFTA’s budget was $328,000 worth of service cuts scheduled to start next spring.

By backing service off to only once an hour, instead of twice an hour, on weekends, RFTA will save money, but may inconvenience its riders.

“They’re significant service cuts,” said Blankenship. He’s hopeful that sales tax revenues will be stronger than anticipated this winter, which may allow the service cuts to be postponed or canceled.

RFTA’s key assumptions for its 2003 budget include a 5.2 percent drop in sales tax revenue, which accounts for almost a third of its revenue.

Conversely, RFTA’s operating expenses are expected to go up next year by 5.9 percent to $12.7 million. This includes a projected 15 percent increase in the cost of diesel fuel.

RFTA is expecting a slight increase in ridership next year. It believes that ridership will go up .5 percent in 2003 to 3.3 million passengers. If so, it will be a fairly significant increase as ridership dropped by 6 percent in 2002.

Also at yesterday’s meeting, the RFTA board passed a resolution supporting the increased use of cleaner, quieter hybrid buses, although that goal poses some future budgeting challenges.

And it also briefly discussed the renewal of a five-year agreement with the Aspen Skiing Co. to provide the free skier shuttle service to the upper valley ski areas.

The Skico will pay RFTA $8.5 million for the service, which includes money to help pay for new buses.

“I think we have a great partnership with them,” said Blankenship of the Skico.