RFTA turns to voters for money | AspenTimes.com

RFTA turns to voters for money

Voters from Aspen to Glenwood Springs will be asked to up their contribution to the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in November.Communities along the Interstate 70 corridor may be asked to enact a tax to support the bus system, as well.RFTA’s board of directors approved a series of steps Thursday aimed at shoring up the transit agency’s foundering finances. They include a tax hike on the November ballot in some jurisdictions and, the board hopes, a proposed new tax to support RFTA in others.In Aspen, Snowmass Village and unincorporated Pitkin County, voters will be asked to allocate additional proceeds from an existing half-cent sales tax to RFTA. No tax increase for RFTA will be proposed in the upper valley.In Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County, voters will be asked to approve an additional .2 percent – or two-tenths of a cent – in sales tax dedicated to RFTA. That’s two cents on a $10 purchase.The added tax support for RFTA in Pitkin County – about .165 percent of the existing transit tax – is equivalent to the .2 percent hike in the downvalley communities, as the Pitco tax applies to food and utilities. Those purchases are exempt from the RFTA tax in downvalley jurisdictions.RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship was also directed to formally approach elected officials in Garfield County, New Castle, Silt and Rifle about joining the coalition of municipalities and counties that support the bus service with tax dollars. It will be up to the elected representatives of those jurisdictions, though, to place a ballot question before their respective voters in November. They could refuse.Meetings with Garfield County commissioners, the New Castle City Council and Rifle City Council are already scheduled next week, Blankenship said.If all of the tax measures win voter approval, including new RFTA taxes in unincorporated Garfield County and the Interstate 70 communities, budget projections indicate RFTA would remain solvent until at least 2011.The new taxes would not be enough to set aside matching funds for a future, amped-up bus system known as Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, but the board agreed it still wants to pursue that vision. A future vote to increase taxes for BRT was not ruled out.If voters in the existing RFTA district OK additional support for RFTA in November, but the Garco contingent does not get on board, the agency is looking at red ink again by next year, given the increasing fuel prices the agency has experienced this year, Blankenship reported.”We have to do some things to modify the budget in the event they don’t come in,” he said.”Their membership is critical to the sustainability of the organization,” agreed Dorothea Farris, Pitkin County commissioner and RFTA board chairwoman. “We have to know what goes if we don’t get that money. What do you get if this passes and what do you get if this fails? That is key.”The board, however, made no decisions about how to cut service if voters decline to put more money into the agency.Dan Richardson, a Glenwood Springs city councilman, urged the board to resist the temptation to eliminate the Grand Hogback route – a bus line between Glenwood and Rifle – if the Garco communities decline to participate. That service justifies Glenwood’s participation in RFTA, he said.”Eliminating the Hogback service just doesn’t cut it,” Richardson said. “I’m not saying we can’t cut service on the Hogback, just not in totality.”Service to communities that don’t support RFTA should be looked at first, countered Arnie Mordkin, Snowmass town councilman.Other board members directed Blankenship to look at everything, if cuts have to be made.”We all may have to bear some burden if these revenues aren’t forthcoming,” said Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.Helping guide RFTA in making service cuts may be the conclusions of an efficiency study the board agreed to fund yesterday. Aspen, Snowmass and Pitkin County have agreed to pay up to $65,000 to have an outside expert analyze the efficiency of the existing RFTA operation, with RFTA funding a matching sum. The board wants the results of the study by early October.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com

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