Regional issues affecting Snowmass are passed in Nov. 6 election | AspenTimes.com

Regional issues affecting Snowmass are passed in Nov. 6 election

Snowmass Village and Basalt have fire district levies passed

Separate proposals by the fire districts of Basalt and Snowmass Village to adjust their mill levies to maintain current property tax revenue levels were approved by overwhelming margins by voters in the Nov. 6 election.

Preliminary results showed the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District ballot question had an insurmountable lead. Early voting from Pitkin and Eagle counties showed there were 3,235 in favor and 778 against. That's a margin of 81 percent to 19 percent in favor, according to the clerk's offices.

The vote on the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District question was 673 in favor and 265 against though numerous votes were still to be counted in Pitkin County.

"I feel very grateful that our constituents would support us," said Ed Van Walraven, president of the Basalt district's board of directors.

Without voter approval to adjust the mill levies and keep revenue, Basalt would have lost an estimated $279,000 in 2020 while Snowmass would have lost $373,000.

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"We carry on without this cloud hanging over our head," Van Walraven said.

The Basalt fire department, which also handles emergency medical response, will be able to carry on the same services people have come to depend on, he said.

Bill Boineau, president of the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District, also expressed gratitude for the community support.

"There had been concern the community might not support it," Boineau said. The district had successfully got a property tax increase a couple of years ago to fund construction of a new firehouse.

RFTA tax widened victory margin with final tallies of votes

Trail users can expect improved and new routes, bus riders will get expanded service and pedestrians can look forward to safer passage now that voters have approved a property tax for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

RFTA officials wasted no time getting to work on a plan on how to implement a wish list of projects after voters Tuesday approved a property tax that will produce about $9.5 million annually. CEO Dan Blankenship told RFTA's board of directors Thursday that the senior staff met Wednesday to start updating a strategic plan that will determine when the agency gets to specific projects.

"We've got most of the things we could conceivably do over the next 20 years on our list," Blankenship said after the meeting.

Increased frequency of some bus service will start almost immediately. For example, local bus service between El Jebel and Glenwood Springs only runs once per hour after 8:15 p.m. RFTA intends to boost that to 30-minute service on weekdays during spring and fall, and daily during summer and winter peak seasons.

Tweaks to operations can be made pretty easily, Blankenship said. Coordinating a phasing plan for the capital improvement projects takes more time.

"We need to make sure that in any given year we're not blowing it out of the water," he said.

A handful of projects are earmarked for funding in 2019 and 2020. Those include funding next year for repavement and other improvements to the popular Rio Grande Trail and initial work on the Lower Valley (LoVa) Trail west of Glenwood Springs.

RFTA also wants to provide seed money for the expansion of the WeCycle bike-share program in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs in 2020.

Safety improvements also have a priority. RFTA is contemplating relocating the Sagewood bus stop closer to the intersection of Highway 82 and Original Road. The current location is far enough downvalley from the traffic signal that some users dash across the highway. It's been the site of fatal vehicle-pedestrian incidents. RFTA is looking into relocating the stop to the upvalley side of intersection, creating a longer but safer walk because it would encourage use of the signal. A pedestrian crossing at 27th Street and Highway 82 in Glenwood Springs also is high on the priority list.

Regular replacement of old buses also is in the works. RFTA plans to purchase 29 electric buses to reduce noise and pollution.

A strategic plan outlining RFTA's steps for the next three years will be brought by the staff to the board for review in January.

RFTA officials were in a celebratory mood at Thursday's regularly scheduled monthly board meeting.

"First of all, I really need to thank the electorate," said George Newman, board chairman and a Pitkin County commissioner.

The property tax proposal was approved in Pitkin County and the eligible parts of Eagle and Garfield counties. The vote was 10,945 in favor and 10,067 against, a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. The vote was nearly dead even in Basalt, El Jebel and surrounding neighborhoods. Pitkin and Garfield counties provided the winning margin.

"We started off maybe a little late and a little slow," Newman said of the campaign. Personal time spent by the staff, board members, volunteers and consultants made the difference, he continued.

"It was an incredible team effort," Newman said. "That's what was needed."

RFTA said during the campaign that the new funding would provide for the agency's needs through 2040. Blankenship said at Thursday's meeting that "there is more than a fighting chance" that the tax could address RFTA's needs to 2050 depending on financial decisions "here and now."

"This is a milestone for RFTA," Newman said. "This is a new day."

scondon@aspentimes.com

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