RFTA’s future up to voters
The future of mass transit in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond hangs in a balance that could swing dramatically, for better or worse, when the Nov. 2 ballots are tallied.Voters in every governmental jurisdiction in the valley that already backs the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority are being asked to up their support for the bus agency, and new tax support is being asked of citizens in unincorporated Garfield County, New Castle and Silt.Passage of the measures means money to keep existing bus routes and hours of service intact, replace old buses with cleaner-burning technology (including the first hybrids in the fleet) and complete a valleywide trail by 2010, according to RFTA.If all of the tax measures are defeated, RFTA has outlined plans for a 33 percent reduction in service in 2005 that will affect riders from Aspen to Rifle, according to Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO.”That’s a rather Draconian cut,” observed Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud.
The ballot breakdown looks like this:Voters in Silt, New Castle and unincorporated Garfield County are being asked to join RFTA with a .4 percent sales tax, along with a $10 auto registration fee surcharge. The sales tax amounts to 4 cents on a $10 purchase. Any or all of the jurisdictions could choose to join, or not. The RFTA question is 2H in Silt, 2D in New Castle and 1A in Garfield County.Among RFTA’s existing members, voters in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County will all be asked to increase their contribution to RFTA with an additional .2 percent sales tax (2 cents on a $10 purchase). The ballot question is 4B in Glenwood, Carbondale and Eagle County.In Pitkin County, Referendum 1A proposes allocating an additional .165 percent of an existing transit tax to RFTA. Voters in the unincorporated parts of the county, Aspen, Snowmass Village and part of Basalt will find the question on their ballots.On both ends of the valley, the measure will pass or fail with a simple majority of the votes cast.However, questions on both ends of the valley are contingent upon passage on the other end. If it fails downvalley and passes in Pitkin County, for example, Pitco isn’t obligated to increase its contribution to RFTA. The same holds true in the reverse. It’s all, or nothing, unlike the independent measures in Silt, New Castle and Garfield County.
RFTA supporters have formed Citizens for Trails and Transit to campaign for the various ballot measures. The group is not assuming an easy time at the polls, despite the lack of organized opposition, said Jacque Whitsitt, a former Basalt councilwoman and RFTA board member.”I would say I feel slightly confident, but not overconfident,” she said. “If anything, I’m more concerned about the downvalley end – it has to win everywhere or it goes away.”The campaign has focused on educating voters about RFTA and dispelling myths, such as: the agency’s sole purpose is supporting the upper-valley resort region or that downvalley tax dollars go toward free service in Aspen (it doesn’t – Aspen tax revenues alone support its in-town service). An average of 400 people per day ride a RFTA bus between Glenwood Springs and other midvalley destinations, never going beyond Basalt, according to the Citizens’ literature.The Hogback route, started 30 months ago with service to Rifle, Silt and New Castle, is seeing yearly 50,000 riders per year.
“It’s been more about education than campaigning, but I guess you could call it the same thing,” said Dan Richardson, a Glenwood councilman and chairman of the Citizens group.”Unfortunately, there are some people in Glenwood who believe, why should we pay to export workers?” he said. “I believe we’re a regional economy now. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”A downvalley resident who rides a RFTA bus to work in Aspen brings his or her paycheck home downvalley to spend, Richardson noted.But Garco Commissioner John Martin, who voted against putting the RFTA question on the ballot there, said he did so because the agreement to join RFTA is a “bad contract.”RFTA needs to be reorganized, needs to involve more public and private entities, and needs a new, businesslike attitude – That it can pay for itself, not that it can’t, Martin said.
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