GarCo wants to build, not pay RFTA funds
ASPEN – Just as Garfield County is coming under fire again for not contributing funds to regional bus service, Commissioner John Martin has unveiled an eye-opening proposal he says is a better way to ease transportation and housing problems.Martin and the other commissioners have asked the Garfield County staff to assess the feasibility of building 100 to 200 affordable housing rental units. He said they need to be built as far upvalley as possible in Garfield County so that workers would be housed close to their jobs.The lack of affordable housing in the Roaring Fork Valley combined with an economic surge had had a heavy impact on Garfield County. Numerous workers in the construction industry and other fields commute from New Castle, Silt, Rifle and unincorporated parts of Garfield County along the Interstate 70 corridor.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority runs limited service between Glenwood Springs and Rifle. It’s board of directors has become increasingly frustrated that Garfield County won’t contribute regular funding to the bus agency’s operations budget.Garfield County voters in a November 2004 election rejected creating a sales tax that would raise revenues for RFTA. A sales tax was also rejected in Rifle and Silt but approved in New Castle.RFTA promised during the fall 2004 campaign that it wouldn’t pull the plug on service to western Garfield County, called the Hogback service, if any jurisdiction in the election approved bus funding. Now that grace period is expiring and the bill is coming due.Pitkin County Commissioner and RFTA board member Dorothea Farris said the RFTA board decided at its last meeting to write a letter to Garfield County, Rifle and Silt and demand payment or threaten to cut service. The governments in all the towns and counties in the Roaring Fork Valley plus New Castle belong to RFTA.Martin claimed the other governments aren’t looking at the big picture problem. Instead of helping pay for bus service to a broader area, he wants Garfield County to spend funds on getting workers closer to their work, reducing their commuting time.”If you want to solve the problem you have to build rental housing,” he said.The private sector isn’t providing rental housing because other segments of the market are so lucrative. Instead of adopting an approach that requires developers to mix in a few affordable units with their free-market projects, Martin favors a large rental project. Garfield County has traditionally scoffed building affordable housing.”We’re just trying to take care of a problem and stop talking about it,” Martin said.Ideally, he said, such a project would be located around Catherine Store or somewhere around Carbondale. Land costs present a challenge in the valley’s super-heated real estate market, he acknowledged. He figures Garfield County would have to sink $1 million into a project “just to get it started.”The county government is exploring possibilities with private sector partners to get the project built. Martin said no funds will be sought from Pitkin County or other valley governments.”It’s an issue we have in Garfield County, so we need to solve it ourselves,” Martin said.There is no timetable on when the county’s feasibility assessment will be completed.
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