Transportation talk could turn to sales tax | AspenTimes.com

Transportation talk could turn to sales tax

Janet Urquhart

Extending and increasing a quarter-cent sales tax to fund buses and Aspen’s parking garage is likely to receive discussion when the City Council delves into its troubled transportation budget Monday.Given the city’s current bus service and the tax revenues that support it, the transportation budget would slip into the red in 2008, according to Paul Menter, city finance director. In addition, the parking garage roof requires a $1.5 million repair.City staffers will present “several revenue enhancement scenarios” for both the transportation budget and the parking garage fund when the council convenes for the budget talk, according to Menter.Menter identified one scenario for the council in a discussion earlier this month. A quarter-cent sales tax is already in place to help fund the parking garage; some of the revenues also go toward the city bus system. The tax, approved for 20 years to help pay off the debt incurred in building the Rio Grande garage, expires at the end of 2009. If it is extended and increased from 0.25 percent to 0.36 percent, the revenues would eliminate the projected deficits. “That would make both of these funds sustainable for the long term at your current service level,” Menter told the council.However, the council isn’t looking at simply maintaining existing levels of service. A new bus route to serve the Highway 82 corridor west of town, including the coming Burlingame Ranch housing, is in the plans. And the council has set a long-term goal of replacing its bus fleet with hybrid electric-diesel vehicles.Extending and increasing the tax would require voter authorization, but it’s an option the council needs to consider, according to Mayor Helen Klanderud.”We need to have something in place when that quarter-cent expires. We have time to do that,” she said. “In my way of thinking, that’s a very minimal increase.””It hadn’t crossed my mind that that would be a solution,” said Councilman Jack Johnson, who when the issue was last discussed asked Menter what it would take to fix the transportation/parking garage fund. “I hadn’t thought ahead about raising the tax and, at the same time, getting it raised.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com