RFTA’s budget shortfall forces layoffs, hiring cuts
RFTA’s gloomy economic picture is forcing the agency to cut employees as well as bus service.
The agency has laid off seven people from its staff of about 40 maintenance workers, according to RFTA Executive Director Dan Blankenship. The cuts were necessary because of reductions in service made for the current year plus the need for further reductions, he said.
The bus agency also plans to hire fewer seasonal bus drivers due to projected cuts in service that will go into effect in the winter, Blankenship said. RFTA would typically hire 38 seasonal drivers to bolster its full-time staff during the winter. It will be reduced to 31.
Next summer RFTA plans to reduce the number of seasonal drivers from seven to one.
RFTA also plans to consolidate two positions that recently became open due to resignations. The director of planning and director of development will be consolidated into one position.
The agency has 190 year-round employees and typically hires between 15 and 30 seasonal ones.
The layoffs in the maintenance department will create gross savings of $150,000 to $160,000, according to RFTA’s estimates. The agency will save another $185,000 from hiring fewer seasonal workers.
Reduced service will also generate between $50,000 and $100,000 in savings on bus parts and $25,000 or so in savings from reduced fuel needs.
However, net savings won’t be as great. “Some of the savings is offset by not getting fare revenue,” said Blankenship.
The senior management of RFTA is currently planning on cuts that would reduce the hours that fare buses in the valley operate. Buses currently operate from 4:35 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. The proposal is to reduce hours to 6 a.m. to 12:15 a.m.
The Snowmass Village fare bus would be cut back to one run per hour between 6 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. during the winter.
Weekend service to Rifle would be eliminated, and the 1 a.m. and 1 p.m. trips between Rifle and Glenwood Springs would be cut on weekdays.
Woody Creek service would be cut for winter and summer seasons.
Some direct service between downvalley and Snowmass Village would be cut during winters.
Those reductions are needed, Blankenship said, because revenues have dropped so drastically in the post-9/11 economy. Sales taxes and a use tax generated $5.48 million in 2001. The amount fell 6.3 percent in 2002 and was projected to fall another 4.2 percent this year.
RFTA anticipates flat sales and use-tax revenues in 2004 and modest increases in 2005 and 2006, according to budget documents released in June. Sales and use taxes account for nearly one-third of the agency’s revenues. Fares generate another 17 percent. The largest share, 34 percent in the 2003 budget, come from service contracts with local governments and entities.
“If we had not had a recession we’d be in much better shape,” said Blankenship. He estimated the agency would have about $2 million more per year.
“Money we thought we were going to have for capital improvements just isn’t there,” said Blankenship. So the agency is falling behind on its bus replacement schedule. Now even the operating budget must be cut.
The budget for next year was made even bleaker because of a decision by the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, made up of elected officials in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County. That organization, known as EOTC, has indicated it won’t contribute to RFTA next year. EOTC contributed $565,000 for RFTA operations this year.
RFTA’s first draft of a budget for 2004 indicated its deficit would be $1.14 million if cuts weren’t made to bus service and $478,500 even with the cuts to service and other reductions.
If elected officials from the upper valley decided to make a contribution from EOTC’s fund for transit needs, some of the bus service proposed to be cut may be restored.
Blankenship said he is preparing a memo that outlines for the upper-valley governments specific dollar amounts associated with specific bus cuts. He said some elected officials have told him they would like to see that information to help determine if revenues should be provided from the EOTC fund.
Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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