RFTA survey says voters will bail out bus service | AspenTimes.com

RFTA survey says voters will bail out bus service

Voters in the region say they would be willing to raise sales taxes to help the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority out of a financial jam, according to a poll conducted for the bus operator.

A representative sample of voters from Aspen to Glenwood Springs shows the majority of residents would be willing to increase an existing sales tax, according to a source familiar with the results. And voters living along the Interstate 70 corridor – in unincorporated Garfield County as well as the towns of New Castle, Silt and Rifle – indicated they would be willing to start a sales tax in return for greater bus service.

RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship confirmed those results. He refused to give specific figures because the organization’s board of directors hasn’t seen the results yet.

“In general, the polling information looks positive,” said Blankenship. “A high percentage of those polled would support some level of a tax increase.”

RFTA’s board of directors commissioned the poll to help it determine whether or not it should approach voters for a sales tax increase in November. The board has been divided and unable to take action on that issue for three months.

Residents in Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs as well as Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County already pay a sales tax to support bus operations.

About 70 percent of survey respondents in those areas say they ride RFTA at least occasionally, according to Blankenship. In the I-70 corridor, about 25 percent had used the buses, he said. But another 25 percent in the I-70 corridor had no knowledge of RFTA service, Blankenship said.

The poll results indicated that residents from Carbondale and points further downvalley supported a larger sales tax but they didn’t feel they should pay the same amount as residents living further upvalley. Buses currently don’t serve downvalley as frequently as they do the upper valley between Aspen and El Jebel.

The poll results will be presented to the RFTA board of directors at a May 13 meeting. Some data was shared with staff already. Blankenship said he wanted to show employees that the public appreciated the job RFTA does to help boost morale. Employees didn’t receive a pay raise in 2003 and were otherwise forced “to suck it up” because of a tight budget, he said.

RFTA’s chief financial officer, Heather Copp, predicted the tough times will only get tougher if RFTA doesn’t receive more revenues. Copp, who is leaving her post this week for a job in California, projected a $1.3 million shortfall for 2005 if a sales tax increase isn’t passed or service cuts aren’t made.

Blankenship said June is the “drop dead” date for the board to decide whether to schedule a fall election.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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