Upper valley covers RFTA red ink | AspenTimes.com

Upper valley covers RFTA red ink

Sarah S. Chung

Thanks to a $400,000 infusion from upvalley governments, the region’s bus system as we know it will stay in place until the end of next year.

On Thursday, elected officials from Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and town of Snowmass Village, acting as the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, unanimously approved a $400,000 supplemental increase for the Roaring Fork Transit Agency’s 2000 budget.

According to RFTA projections, next year’s budget will fall short some $650,000 to $750,000. With the EOTC’s appropriation, fares in 2000 may only go up by 10 percent and services will not be affected.

Had the extra funding been denied, RFTA’s other options to make up the shortfall included increasing fares by up to 25 percent and eliminating some routes or cutting back the frequency of the valley routes.

The funding boost will come from the half-penny sales tax levied in Pitkin County for transportation uses.

But everyone at Thursday’s meeting agreed covering the agency’s continual “one-time only” requests is merely a Band-Aid approach to a problem that needs a tourniquet.

And simmering beneath the surface of the discussion was the role of downvalley communities in funding RFTA and what could happen if a Regional Transportation District is not approved by voters next May.

The proposed RTD would establish a permanent funding source for the agency, first through a $10 vehicle registration, and later, possibly, a .4 percent sales tax in RFTA’s service areas.

Trying to diffuse the grumbling of several upvalley officials, RFTA General Manager Dan Blankenship emphasized to the group that downvalley contributions have increased by 500 percent in the last four years. Downvalley support has risen from $80,500 in 1995 to $422,500 this year, he said.

“I really think they’re giving what they can,” Blankenship said.But the growing support doesn’t negate the fact that in 1999, downvalley routes had to be subsidized by $1.4 million, while upvalley governments contributed $1.1 million more than the cost of local upvalley routes.

The only fair and sustainable solution, EOTC officials agreed, is the proposed transportation district, which would tax each area according to its use of the bus system.

Snowmass Village Councilman Doug Mercatoris called it the “real responsibility” of each elected official in the room to do what they can to “sell” passage of the future ballot question establishing the transportation district.

County Commissioner Patti Clapper advised that the campaign for the RTD and the question itself should be “careful not to appear threatening to voters – as in do this or else.” But Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards responded, “It’s not a threat, it’s a reality.”

Richards noted that even in the context of a $750,000 shortfall next year, much of RFTA’s capital needs were deferred until the outcome of the RTD vote.

If the district fails, the significant fare increases and service reductions “will be required,” Blankenship said.

For the time being, Aspen Councilman Jim Markalunas advised fellow upvalley officials to focus on the benefits felt by the entire valley by having fewer cars on the streets.

“We should understand that we all have to share the same blanket to keep ourselves warm. Now it may seem the downvalley has more blanket, but it all balances out in the end.”


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