Transit agency is facing budget shortfall in 2001 |

Transit agency is facing budget shortfall in 2001

Janet Urquhart

The Roaring Fork Transit Agency is looking at an $800,000 budget deficit for 2001 – or maybe not.

Whether the valley bus operator’s bottom line runs in the red or the black next year depends on the fate of the proposed Rural Transportation Authority at the polls next month.

If the valley’s voters approve formation of an RTA, the transit agency will have an expanded source of tax revenue from governments up and down the valley. The revenues will fund existing operations and allow the agency to boost its service.

If the RTA is not approved, RFTA will be faced with a familiar dilemma that may lead to service cutbacks, fare hikes or both, said Dan Blankenship, executive director.

Service for the coming winter season, however, will be unaffected, he said. Adjustments to service and fares, if they’re needed, will occur in spring, summer and next fall.

“If the RTA passes, it’s a whole new ball game,” Blankenship said. “If it does pass, then I think we’re going to be in pretty good shape. That is not to say there would never be a fare increase down the road to keep up with inflation,” he added.

Last year, RFTA was projecting a $560,000 shortfall in its 2000 budget, which called for $10.9 million in operating expenses. Upvalley governments put up an additional $400,000 and RFTA used $160,000 from its operating reserves to cover the deficit.

For 2001, operating expenses are expected to total $11.5 million, according to Blankenship. Fuel and insurance costs are up, and inflation has boosted the cost-of-living increase the agency has budgeted for its employees, he said.

In the past, RFTA budget shortfalls have affected capital expenditures, like the agency’s ability to buy new buses, rather than its actual operations, Blankenship noted.

“Last year was the first year when we showed an operating shortfall,” he said. “This year, we’re kind of in the same boat.”

And while upvalley governments – Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County – helped bail out the agency this year, RFTA can’t count on an extra appropriation to keep the valley’s commuter buses running as usual in 2001, according to Blankenship.

If Pitkin County’s proposed $10.2 million transit bonding measure passes at the polls, the extra dollars available from existing transit sales taxes will likely be applied to that debt rather than to shore up RFTA operations, he said.

Some of that bonding is slated to cover RFTA’s capital needs, like bus purchases, but not to subsidize the agency’s daily bus operations.

“There may not be much money for them to bail us out with. We may be in a situation where we have to make some other hard choices,” Blankenship said.

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