Shortfall of $700k in transit funding presents a puzzle for Roaring Fork Valley officials

People board a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus at Rubey Park Transit Center in Aspen.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Facing a nearly more than $700,000 shortfall in transportation funding, upper Roaring Fork Valley elected officials decided to dip into their savings account to continue all funding commitments for a year.

That means the Elected Officials Transportation Committee will continue to contribute a $115,000 transit subsidy to the Winter X Games in 2020, as well as $100,000 next year to the We-Cycle bicycle sharing program, both of which were on the chopping block.

It also means the EOTC will work with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority on a plan in which the regional bus operation begins solely paying for no-fee bus service in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Woody Creek beginning in 2021. That would save the EOTC more than $690,000 a year, according to cost estimates.

David Pesnichak, the EOTC transportation coordinator, said the main problem with the EOTC’s budget came in June, when a new state law governing the collection of sales tax went into effect. The law particularly impacted the half-cent use tax that funds the EOTC, he said. The loss amounts to about $711,000 a year.

To deal with the problem, elected officials decided Thursday to adopt a $4.4 million “transition” budget for 2020 that will rely on $181,000 from the EOTC’s $2.6 million savings account. The plan is to use 2020 to figure out how to deal with the decreased revenue.

Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman said even with the subtraction of the $181,000, the savings account remains healthy and buys the committee a year to figure out solutions. Cutting a successful program like We-Cycle or the subsidy to the Winter X Games, which provides an economic boost to the community, is not the way to go and wouldn’t save much money anyway, he said.

“It’s a healthy fund balance to get through the next year,” Newman said.

Pesnichak also pointed out that the communities of Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County are likely to receive more sales tax money under the new state law, as will RFTA through its half-cent sales tax funding source. That means those communities’ budgets could be hit up for the extra money.

Newman suggested comparing the loss of EOTC tax money to the gain RFTA will receive in sales tax money and possibly asking RFTA to chip in.

Dan Blankenship, RFTA’s CEO, said he also supported taking a year to figure out solutions.

“I believe (RFTA will) see a significant increase in sales tax,” Blankenship said. “I’m very optimistic that our board would approve (paying for the no-fee Aspen-area service).”

EOTC’s 2020 budget also includes $650,000 for the Snowmass Village Mall transit station, $1.9 million toward the Brush Creek Park and Ride lot and $564,000 for a variable message sign near the park and ride lot that will provide residents and visitors traffic and parking information.


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