RFTA tax: I will if you will | AspenTimes.com

RFTA tax: I will if you will

Janet Urquhart

“I will if you will” could be on the minds of Roaring Fork Valley voters when they consider devoting additional tax money to the valley’s bus agency.Pitkin County voters will be asked to up their support for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in November, while voters in other valley jurisdictions will be asked a different question that would also boost the sales tax that subsidizes RFTA.Language is being added to both ballot questions to assure voters up and down the valley that they won’t spend more money on the financially struggling RFTA unless everyone else does, too.Ideally, voters throughout the district that supports RFTA would see the same question on the ballot. It would pass or fail based on the overall result at the polls, regardless of how the question fared in any single community. For example, the question could fail in Basalt, but the tax hike would pass if it won overall support among the jurisdictions that currently support RFTA.Instead, though, there will be two separate questions.In Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, voters will be asked to approve an additional 0.2 percent – or 2/10ths of a cent – in sales tax dedicated to RFTA. That’s two cents on a $10 purchase.In Aspen, Snowmass Village and unincorporated Pitkin County, voters will be asked to devote an additional 0.165 percent of an existing transit tax to RFTA. County commissioners formally approved the ballot measure Wednesday.”I wanted to make sure that we’re together in this and leveraging downvalley contributions,” said County Commissioner Jack Hatfield, who said he proposed the amendment that includes the other jurisdictions. “The idea was to cover our backsides. The upper valley pays 65 percent of the transportation costs in the valley. Without their support, we won’t have any solutions for transportation.”The added tax support for RFTA in Pitkin County is equivalent to the 0.2 percent hike in the downvalley communities, as the Pitco tax applies to food and utilities, as well.For both questions, it’s the overall vote that counts, not the results in individual jurisdictions.However, upper-valley officials agreed last week they’d like a contingency clause in the ballot measure, linking passage of the Pitkin County question to passage of the downvalley measure. The RFTA board is scheduled to meet next week to consider a similar clause for the downvalley ballot question.”It’s kind of trying to leverage support … if you vote for it, I’ll vote for it sort of thing,” said Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO. “It kind of unifies the region in a way that having separate questions wouldn’t.”Since no new tax is proposed in Pitkin County, it’s not actually necessary to put the matter before voters there. If downvalley voters approve the additional tax, but Pitkin County voters reject their RFTA question, the upper valley’s elected officials could allocate the additional money to the agency anyway.Elected representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County jointly control the proceeds of a half-cent countywide sales tax dedicated to transit.Unconnected to the votes among jurisdictions that are already RFTA members, several other communities may propose a new 0.4 percent sales tax to support the agency. RFTA ballot measures are under consideration in unincorporated Garfield County, Silt and New Castle.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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