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RTA victory looks likely

Allyn Harvey

Bus service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs might not be the responsibility of the Roaring Fork Transit Agency much longer.

Voters from seven separate jurisdictions throughout the valley appeared united in their support last night for the proposal to form a special taxing district to fund and operate public transportation.

Votes ran 2-to-1 in support of the proposal in Eagle County, Pitkin County and Basalt. The outcome in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs is far from certain, however. Absentee balloting and early voting in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs came in 52.6 percent in favor of the RTA, but they have yet to be sorted out in any meaningful way, and the outcome of the election-day balloting was not completed when The Aspen Times went to press.

An election official from the Garfield County clerk and recorder’s office said it might take until Thursday to separate the absentee ballots from Carbondale and Glenwood.

Nevertheless, the Rural Transportation Authority’s promise to run half-hour service throughout the valley and an hourly run between Glenwood Springs and Rifle was enough to convince some voters in the mid- and lower valley to vote to raise sales taxes anywhere from 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent. The yes vote in the upper valley means taxes currently spent on RFTA and all of its property – buses, maintenance facilities, offices, housing and bus stops – will be transferred to the new taxing district.

“I think people have been crying for regional cooperation on a regional solution to our transportation problems,” said Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards. “This vote lets us put together a great regional transportation system.”

The initiative garnered wide support in the sections of the valley already well served by RFTA.

Pitkin County voters favored the RTA by a 2-to-1 margin, winning with 66.3 percent of the 6,829 votes cast. Support was similar in the Pitkin County portion of Basalt, where 194 people came out in support of the new bus agency and 93 opposed it.

In the section of Basalt that’s located in Eagle County, 497 people voted in favor of the RTA and 242 opposed it. In the remainder of Eagle County precincts located in the Roaring Fork Valley, 1,043 supported the RTA and 540 voted against it.

“It’s a good result for a good, cost-effective proposal – one that involves buses,” said Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey.

But RTA opponent Jeffrey Evans isn’t so sure more buses, at least as proposed with the RTA, is the right solution for the valley. “I guess we’ll have to sit back and wait for people to realize what they’ve done, which is dug themselves a money pit that they can’t extract themselves from.”

The future face of the RTA, which will be named the Roaring Fork Transit Authority, depends on the final numbers from Carbondale and Glenwood. Many supporters of the RTA have said that Glenwood is critical to the system’s long-term viability, although they’ve also said formation could move forward without the community.

Formation of the new district is expected to begin Monday, when the committee of elected officials who crafted the proposal meets in Carbondale. RTA spokeswoman Alice Hubbard said the RTA is viable even without participation from Carbondale and Glenwood, although the system will look radically different without them.

The RTA will be a new government entity, with its own taxing powers and rules of governance. It will be overseen by a board made up of one elected official – county commissioner or city councilman – from each member jurisdiction.

The passage of the RTA means different things for different taxpayers around the valley.

There will be no new taxes in unincorporated Pitkin County and Snowmass Village, though residents and shoppers there will continue to pay the 1.5 percent sales tax that’s dedicated to transit. Aspen voters passed a 1 percent tax on lodging that will pay for local service, allowing their portion of the transit sales tax to be dedicated to the RTA’s commuter service.

In Basalt, voters supported a 0.2 percent sales tax increase. The money will be spent on local service. Unincorporated portions of Eagle County will see no change in their taxes in spite of the victory; businesses there will collect a 0.5 percent transit sales tax.

Carbondale voters may see their sales tax increase by 0.5 percent (five cents on a $10 purchase), with 0.4 percent going to the RTA and 0.1 percent being retained for local projects. In Glenwood Springs, the sales tax could increase by 0.4 percent.

The only portion of the valley that did not participate in the RTA vote is unincorporated Garfield County, because the county commissioners there declined to put the question on the ballot.


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