RFTA struggles to meet Garco’s demands to join | AspenTimes.com
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RFTA struggles to meet Garco’s demands to join

Janet Urquhart

Whether Garfield County commissioners will agree to ask their voters to join the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is anybody’s guess after the RFTA board refused Thursday to meet all of Garco’s demands.RFTA staffers and the commissioners negotiated several conditions that Garco wanted placed into an intergovernmental agreement that would bring unincorporated Garfield County into the RFTA fold, if its voters approve the county’s participation and a .4 percent sales tax to help fund the bus system’s operation.While the five conditions – pared down from 15 initial demands from the county – had the blessing of Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO, the transit agency’s board of directors balked at one of them and tweaked others. The Garfield County commissioners could decide on Monday whether or not they’ll place the matter before Garco voters in November.Meanwhile, elected officials in Rifle have declined to put RFTA membership and the .4 percent sales tax to its voters this year. Silt and New Castle are working with RFTA to draft agreements for their participation. If elected officials in those communities agree, a proposal to join RFTA and a .4 percent sales tax would be put before voters there in November, as well.In response to Garco’s list of conditions, the RFTA board agreed yesterday it would not reduce bus service by more than 5 percent within the Interstate 70 corridor for at least 18 months after November 2004, if Garfield County joins the authority. Garco, however, was looking for assurance that the Grand Hogback service along I-70, which currently serves riders from Glenwood Springs to Rifle, would not be cut for 18 months, period.Only Snowmass Village Councilman Arnie Mordkin refused to OK the deal, arguing that Silt and New Castle would have no incentive to join RFTA if Garfield County secures a guarantee of continuing service to those communities for the next year and a half.Another provision, guaranteeing that, for 18 months, an amount equal to the revenues generated by the RFTA sales tax and a $10 vehicle registration fee in Garco would be spent on trails and bus service in Garfield County was rejected on a 4-2 vote. “No” votes by Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud and Mordkin killed the measure under the RFTA board’s supermajority vote requirement.”I am uncomfortable with making promises to one particular jurisdiction that the rest of us don’t have,” Klanderud said, voicing fears that RFTA might be forced to make cuts elsewhere in order to uphold that guarantee to Garfield County.RFTA envisions spending far more in Garfield County than what the provision requires during the next 18 months anyway, according to Blankenship, but Mordkin and Klanderud adamantly opposed the condition.”The reality of it is, it’s a negotiation to get them in,” said Dan Richardson, Glenwood Springs councilman. “An 18-month guarantee, to me, is worth the risk.”Also a point of contention for the RFTA board was a demand by Garfield County to let its voters consider withdrawing from RFTA if certain service funds are withdrawn, including funding for the Grand Hogback route.”Nobody should have the right to withdraw … we’ll destroy RFTA if we allow people to withdraw,” said Anne Freedman, Basalt Town Council member.The board withdrew behind closed doors to debate the issue and then voted to allow the “out clause” with the provision that it will be extinguished when another I-70 jurisdiction, in addition to Garco, joins RFTA. Presumably, the jurisdictions can form a voting bloc with Glenwood Springs to protect the Grand Hogback service, as they’ll each have a vote on the RFTA board.While RFTA seeks additional membership with participation from Garco and I-70 communities, it is also preparing to place tax measures before voters throughout the Roaring Fork Valley – in jurisdictions that already support RFTA financially. The RFTA board tabled action on the ballot language Thursday, but voters in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Carbondale and the unincorporated section of Eagle County in the valley are expected to be asked to approve an additional .2 percent sales tax (two cents on a $10 purchase) dedicated to RFTA.In Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, voters are to be asked to dedicate additional funds from an existing tax to help shore up RFTA’s finances.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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