Transportation district unaffected |

Transportation district unaffected

Aspen Times Staff Report

When the Garfield County Commissioners opted not to refer the question of whether to form a regional transportation district to the November ballot, they ensured that people living in places like Aspen Glen, Missouri Heights and Cattle Creek won’t have a say in future developments of the valley’s public transportation system.

What they didn’t do was affect the viability of the proposed Rural Transportation Authority.

Voters in seven of eight jurisdictions in the Roaring Fork Valley – Pitkin County, Eagle County, Aspen, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass Village – will vote in November on whether to form a new taxing district that will manage and fund bus service between Glenwood Springs and Aspen.

If the Rural Transportation Authority looks anything at all like what its backers hope, it will mean a lot more buses running up and down the highway, with half-hour service between Aspen and Glenwood Springs and buses running every 15 minutes through the winter between El Jebel and Aspen.

Laying the groundwork for the transportation authority is an intergovernmental agreement that sets the sales tax rates, defines the authority’s responsibilities and establishes the rules of governance.

On Tuesday, the Garfield County Commissioners voted 2-1 against the intergovernmental agreement, which means voters in the unincorporated portions of the county that lie in the Roaring Fork Valley won’t decide the question in November. County Commissioner Walt Stowe was the sole vote in favor of the agreement, which he said “probably isn’t ideal, but is still a good document.” Commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown took the opposite view.

Their reluctance to join in with the rest of the valley in letting their voters decide doesn’t change much, however. The least important link in the intergovernmental agreement is the unincorporated portions of Garfield County that lay in the Roaring Fork Valley.

“This is not a big blow to the Rural Transportation Authority,” said transportation authority spokeswoman Alice Hubbard. “It’s just too bad that Garfield County won’t have a chance to be at the table making regional transportation decisions, assuming the RTA is formed.”

Garfield County currently makes no contribution to public transportation, leaving the bill at RFTA, the existing bus agency, to other jurisdictions. It has no say on how bus service is apportioned, even though many of its residents rely on RFTA to get to work.

And even if Garfield County had ended up joining the transit authority, its contribution to the annual budget would have been just $179,000. Only unincorporated Eagle County, which has very few businesses in its boundaries, is projected to contribute less.

By contrast, estimates for contributions from Aspen and Pitkin County are $2,268,000 and $1,315,000, or 34.7 percent and 20.1 percent, respectively. Glenwood Springs will be spending about $1,506,000 if voters approve it there.

If they decide to join, residents in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs will see their taxes on retail purchases increase 0.4 percent. Basalt businesses will charge another 0.2 percent. Taxes in Eagle County and Pitkin County will remain unchanged, but they will pay their share out of existing taxes. And Aspen voters are being asked to approve a hotel/motel tax that would pay for local bus service and allow the current transportation sales tax to be diverted to the transportation authority.

The transportation authority would become a new government entity, governed by a board of directors made up of elected officials – town and city council members and county commissioners – from each jurisdiction. It would replace RFTA, which relies on most of its funding from upper valley governments.

Commissioner Stowe said he was disappointed with the outcome because it means one less downvalley voice on the transportation authority’s board. He also said he thought that Garfield County voters deserved a say on the issue.

“I don’t know whether there’s a big ground swell in favor of it. I’ve been hearing both for and against pretty evenly. It’s when I don’t have a clear idea in my mind what people want that I think it’s best to send an issue on and let the voters decide for themselves.”

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