RTA draws criticism at public hearing | AspenTimes.com

RTA draws criticism at public hearing

Allyn Harvey

Residents of the midvalley and lower valley voiced concerns last night at the first of six public hearings on a plan to form a valleywide Rural Transportation District.

A man and a woman from Carbondale wondered why their town should have to pay more toward bus service than the $20,000 it currently contributes from its general fund.

An El Jebel man said he was in favor of the RTA, but not if it is funded with sales taxes. He’d rather pay more property taxes to improve bus service for commuters.

And one woman from Basalt warned her town’s elected officials away from coupling the idea for a transportation district with the more controversial proposal to build a commuter train between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

A Glenwood Springs man, however, countered that the number of people who say they’ll vote against an RTA if rail is part of the package is about the same as those who say they’ll vote against an RTA if rail isn’t included.

Voters throughout the Roaring Fork Valley and all its tributaries, which includes three counties and five towns and cities, will be asked this fall whether they want to form an RTA.

The RTA proposed for the valley would replace the Roaring Fork Transit Agency, better known at RFTA, which operates bus service between Glenwood and Aspen. RFTA is currently funded on a piecemeal basis, with each government in its service area contributing whatever it deems appropriate each year. If voters approve the RTA, funding for transportation would come from sales taxes dedicated solely to transit.

Under the proposal, residents of Basalt would see a four-tenths of 1 percent increase in sales tax. If they want local, in-town service, they’ll have to approve a sales tax increase of 1 percent, or one penny for each dollar spent.

Residents from Eagle County, Garfield County, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs would also see their sales taxes rise four cents on the dollar. Residents in the upper valley, from Snowmass to Aspen, would have to find an additional $500,000, on top of the 1.5 percent sales tax already dedicated to transit, to pay for local service.

Carbondale is among the stingiest of local governments when it comes to funding RFTA, and its share of RTA funding would remain disproportionately low in light of the service improvements it would receive. But that fact didn’t keep Carbondale resident Steve Wolfe from protesting the sales tax increase.

“It seems to me that the people who are making money from the bus system – in Aspen and Glenwood – should be the ones who pay for it,” he said.

The comment drew fire from an older man who said, “A lot of times we look upvalley to find blame for our problems, when we should be looking at ourselves.” He pointed out that housing prices are increasing throughout the area, and businesses that benefit from transit are also located in Carbondale, El Jebel and Basalt.

“When I’ve been working on this proposal, I’ve been thinking of all the people, citizens from Basalt and from other communities, who couldn’t make a viable living without an alternative form of transportation,” said town councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.

Whitsitt represents Basalt on the committee that is drawing up ballot language for the voters and negotiating an agreement between the eight governments affected by the proposal. And for many of the elected officials involved in the discussions, the need for better bus service is the primary reason they support the RTA.

If approved, the number of trips between Carbondale and Aspen would more than double from less than 20 to more than 40 a day, and the number of trips between Glenwood and Aspen would increase from one every two hours to one every half-hour. Service between El Jebel and Aspen during peak travel hours in the winter would double, from two trips to four trips an hour.

That’s all fine with El Jebel resident Peter Larrowe, who likes the idea of an RTA but is very concerned with the way it would be funded. He would rather see a property tax levy than a sales tax increase, which hits the people of moderate means the hardest.

“The people who benefit from this are homeowners and property owners who see their land value go up and up without any effort on their part, while the people who can least afford to pay for it are burdened most heavily. I don’t think I’ll vote for it if it turns out to be a sales tax,” he said.

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