Valley officials meet to design RTA ballot |

Valley officials meet to design RTA ballot

Allyn Harvey

Elected officials from every government in the valley, save one, will begin meeting this week to hammer out ballot language for a Rural Transit Authority that would replace the existing bus agency, RFTA.

RTA officials are hoping to have ballot language crafted by late spring, so that voters will have time to understand the issue when it comes up for a vote next fall, said RTA spokeswoman Alice Hubbard.

An RTA is a special district set up to provide funding and management for public transportation.

Instead of relying on local governments to budget money each year, as Roaring Fork Transit Agency does now, the transportation authority would cover its own costs by levying taxes either in the form of a vehicle license fee or – with voter approval – sales taxes. The taxes are levied only on communities that are part of the district.

If approved by voters, the RTA would assume responsibility for bus service from RFTA.

Although some opponents of commuter rail have expressed suspicions about the RTA and it’s “true purpose,” the idea has at least tentative backing from at least one of rail’s biggest opponents: Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey.

“Rail is going nowhere, absolutely nowhere, but I think the RTA is a good idea,” said Hershey.

The idea also has strong support from Rifle Republican Russell George, the speaker of the Colorado House who represents much of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Thursday’s meeting of the RTA policy board in Carbondale will be the first at which local governments begin taking the necessary steps to form the district. The board is made up of two elected officials from each of the valley’s governments, except Garfield County, which declined to participate.

Hershey is representing Aspen along with Mayor Rachel Richards. Other board members include Mary Steinbrecher and Don Vanderhoff from Glenwood Springs; Susie Darrow and Randy Vanderhurst from Carbondale; Jacque Whitsitt and Anne Freedman from Basalt; T. Michael Manchester and Doug Mercatoris from Snowmass Village; James Johnson and George Russos from Eagle County; and Dorothea Farris and Leslie Lamont from Pitkin County.

“Thursday’s meeting is going to lay out the decision-making framework,” said RTA’s Hubbard. By early spring, she added, the board is aiming to have an intergovernmental agreement on how the RTA is organized and overseen and ballot language ready for the fall ballot.

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at Carbondale City Hall. The public is welcome.

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