RFTA won’t raise fares or cut service this year

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

CARBONDALE ” The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority won’t cut bus service this year but is already taking aim at routes in western Garfield County for next year if the recession continues.

RFTA’s projected budget shortfall for 2009 changes by the month, in large part because sales tax revenues are sagging. Revenues are running 21 percent below budget. If revenues hold at that level, the agency estimates its revenues will be down about $705,000 for the year.

The agency has made enough cuts in recent months to offset the projected shortfall, said John Tangen, director of finance.

“We’ve been able to trim operational fat to avoid using reserves,” he said.

If sales tax revenues fall more than 21 percent below budget, the agency might have to use reserves to get through 2009. The agency has built a hefty rainy day fund of about $3.5 million, according to Tangen.

RFTA’s board of directors agreed at a meeting Thursday to keep monitoring the fiscal picture, and use reserves if needed this year rather than take more drastic steps like cutting service, laying off employees or freezing wages. Board member and Carbondale Councilman Ed Cortez said RFTA must avoid acting in “panic mode.”

“You know how I am about fare increases ” absolutely not, absolutely not,” Cortez said.

Other board members concurred that the best course of action is to make drastic cuts in the 2010 budget if the economy doesn’t show signs of improvement this year. RFTA board chairman and Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen said the agency must take a close look at its subsidy for service in western Garfield County, which includes Rifle and Silt. The county and those two towns aren’t members of the organization.

“The elephant in my room continues to be the Hogback,” Christensen said, referring to the name of the service in western Garfield County.

Garfield County government contributes about $500,000 out of its general fund for RFTA operations. The Hogback service is estimated to cost about $1 million. Rifle pays a token amount, and Silt doesn’t contribute.

The towns of Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and New Castle collect sales taxes to support RFTA service, as do Pitkin and Eagle counties.

RFTA board members have rattled sabers for years about cutting the subsidized service for Garfield County, Rifle and Silt. To this point it has been hollow threats. But the poor economy, and RFTA’s potential need to cut its budget next year, may force a tougher stance.

“At some point we’ve got to draw the line,” Christensen said.

RFTA board member and New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin said some elected officials in Garfield County, Rifle and Silt are committing a “dereliction of duty” by not paying for the bus service that many of their constituents want and use. The Hogback service is well used if not well funded by the jurisdictions that benefit most.

RFTA board member and Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson said Hogback service must be cut next year before he would consider cuts to service between Aspen and New Castle.

Several board members said Garfield County, Rifle and Silt should be presented with a bill for the actual cost of the Hogback service. If they don’t pay for the full cost of that service in 2010, it should be slashed to reflect the jurisdictions’ contributions, they said.


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