Upper Valley backs more money for RFTA
The financial prognosis for the local transit agency improved Wednesday after elected officials in the upper valley agreed that voters should have a say on the matter this fall.The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprising representatives from Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village, said it would support the diversion of additional sales tax revenues to support the struggling Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.The transit agency is facing a budget deficit predicted to reach $1 million next year, according to estimates from the agency’s chief financial officer. Without new revenue, bus service throughout the valley will have to be cut or reduced.A recent survey revealed that voters are very willing to support the agency, but only to a point. Throughout the valley, around 70 percent of people living in communities that already provide financial support for RFTA said they would support a sales tax increase of .2 percent to support it. Support falls significantly as that percentage increases. (A .2 percent sales tax would generate 2 cents from every $10 in purchases.)The communities and areas that currently support RFTA through sales taxes include Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and unincorporated sections of Eagle and Pitkin counties. Taxes cover a significant portion of the agency’s annual operating budget, serving, in effect, as a subsidy for riders.RFTA provides varying levels of service between Aspen and Rifle. Communities served by RFTA that don’t contribute sales taxes include unincorporated Garfield County, New Castle, Silt and Rifle. All four communities are considering ballot questions that would dedicate a .4 percent sales tax, or 4 cents out of every $10 in purchases, to RFTA.The elected officials in the upper Roaring Fork Valley agreed this week to support a ballot question that would divert sales taxes already collected for transportation purposes to RFTA. For every dollar spent in Pitkin County, 1.5 cents in sales taxes is collected in support of transit; just under half that amount goes to RFTA. If voters approve the diversion, just over half of the transit taxes will go to RFTA, with the remainder going toward other transportation projects, such as engineering for a new Maroon Creek Bridge.RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said it was likely that he would ask his board of directors for authorization to seek a sales tax increase of .2 percent in downvalley communities that already support RFTA. The number of the proposed tax diversion in Pitkin County is a little lower because, unlike other RFTA jurisdictions, sales taxes there are also levied on the purchase of food and utilities.If RFTA asks voters in member communities to increase support, it will need to craft at least two and possibly three separate ballot questions to ensure that everyone is paying the same amount.The RFTA board, composed of one elected official from each of the member communities, is expected to take the issue up next week.
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