Commissioners turn down money request from RFTA
Roaring Fork Transit Authority CEO Dan Blankenship got a big no from the Garfield County commissioners Monday when he asked them for $100,000 to support bus service in the county.The county commissioners have committed $50,000 to RFTA for trail construction along Highway 82 in 2005, however.Commissioners Larry McCown and John Martin agreed that because the voters did not support a ballot measure in November to dedicate 0.6 percent in sales tax to support bus service, they could not meet RFTA’s request.”I have to say I appreciate the service RFTA gives citizens, but as an elected official I have to listen to the people who voted not to become part of RFTA and not to fund it,” McCown said.In the November election, voters in New Castle agreed to support RFTA’s Hogback service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle with a 0.4 percent sales tax. However, the measure failed in Silt and in unincorporated Garfield County. Rifle did not have a RFTA measure on the ballot, and it does not support the service.McCown also pointed out that people who live in the unincorporated areas of the county and shop in any of the county’s towns are in fact contributing sales tax to the respective towns that fund the service. Both Glenwood Springs and Carbondale contribute sales tax revenues to RFTA.In countywide focus groups the county commissioners convened last year, people were more concerned about county road maintenance than bus transportation, McCown said.”Since I’m always the baddie, I’ll support the citizens’ vote. I feel I need to honor it,” Martin said.County Commissioner Trési Houpt voted in favor of giving RFTA the requested money.In casting her vote, Houpt said, “I think this is a critical request. I see this as an essential service throughout the county … It’s hard to ignore the ridership numbers for the county and say we shouldn’t be involved in it.”The Hogback route was established in 2002 and last year carried 50,000 riders between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, Blankenship said.”We anticipate that will grow by at least 5 percent,” he said. “We are limited by capacity. The longer the service is out there, and the more convenient it is, the more people will use it. Our goal is to improve service and add capacity at peak times.”Blankenship said RFTA would like to provide bus service on Airport Road south of Rifle where Wal-Mart and other businesses are located.RFTA bus rider and Carbondale resident Laurie Loeb urged the commissioners to support the request. She pointed out that Carbondale has been asking for half-hour bus service but was told by RFTA two years ago that would not happen because funding was going to the Hogback service.”It’s a great inconvenience to be limited to one-hour service,” she said. “As the population grows, it becomes imperative to increase service. It’s essential for the county to pitch in to this.”RFTA pledged not to cut the Hogback route for 18 months no matter what the outcome of the election, Blankenship said.Blankenship also pointed out that Carbondale approved a 0.2 percent increase in an existing 0.4 percent sales tax that will contribute $400,000 to RFTA in 2005.Carbondale trustee Alice Laird said the contribution is a significant amount “for a small town of 6,000 people who are very supportive of transit.”A $100,000 request for the county “is very reasonable,” she added.Blankenship said that RFTA’s effort to collect sales tax in the unincorporated portions of the county “was more of an equity issue,” so that everyone would be paying their fair share.But the commissioners’ rejection of his request was not a surprise to Blankenship.”I’m not totally shocked you’ve taken that position,” he said.But Laird was not as accepting of their decision. “I feel you’re letting down the people who live in Carbondale and New Castle,” she said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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