Garfield County Commission considers cutting funding to Hogback Bus Route
Garfield County commissioners link tanking oil and gas revenues to an upcoming budgetary decision to sever funds from a regular bus route that connects riders from Rifle, Silt and New Castle to Glenwood Springs.
During a joint workshop between commissioners and Rifle City Council Tuesday night, county leaders described the 2021 budget facing challenges unseen in years. When they adopted the budget in December, projected expenditures outweighed revenue $101.7 million to $91.3 million.
“We’re probably looking at a reduction of probably energy development at 25% to 30% drop again in reference to revenue,” Commissioner John Martin said. “So well have to make the same accommodations in reference to expenditures, and we’ll try and keep that balanced budget.”
The Hogback Bus Route, serviced by the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, received $500,000 in county funding for 2021. In years prior, however, the county usually allocated $750,000 annually to the Rifle-to-Glenwood connection.
The route could be another casualty of cuts made by Garfield County in recent memory. Amid budgetary shortfalls, attrition set out to reduce county employees by 18 positions, while Sheriff Lou Vallario announced late last year the elimination of the county’s animal control program.
In addition to the Hogback route, the commission said Tuesday they may also have to look at cutting funds toward the Parachute Area Transit System, a route that links, among other things, Parachute to the RFTA line in Rifle.
Providing solutions, the commission proposed two solutions to Rifle City Council: either completely join RFTA, a service that dropped from 5.5 million riders in 2019 to 2.7 million in 2020, or set out for Rifle voters to decide on a mill levy or an increase in sales tax to help create their own transit service.
“Instead of pulling out the rug from under them, we’d like to give the people a chance to talk, to speak through a vote,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.
The commission also proposed Rifle tie-in to the possible tax increase The Traveler, a service that caters to senior and disabled residents.
“I wouldn’t want to be held captive by the Pitkinites and never have the ability to escape from them,” Rifle City Councilor Ed Green said of the possibility of joining RFTA.
Rifle Mayor Barbara Clifton said the city has in the past tried to impose a levy to create their own in-house transit service, but the proposal has been voted down twice.
“The consistent rationale that I hear from people that have voted it down — which I’m a little concerned would also apply to any sort of regional transit — it’s really the up-valley employers’ responsibility to get their workers up there, either through employee housing up there or through funding the transit service,” she said.
In addition to possible taxation, the commission brought how they’re working to open up more oil and gas drilling along the Piceance Basin, an activity that at one point in 2006 accumulated $1.7 billion in tax revenue for Garfield County.
Declining revenues due to diminished demand, as well as the introduction of Senate Bill 19-181 — a bill that imposes more stringent regulations on oil and gas development in Colorado — prompted the county to so far spend nearly $2 million to challenge the rules.
Community Development Director Sheryl Bower said the county has so far assembled a technical working group of representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the U.S. Forest Service, the health department and Bureau of Land Management, among other entities, to help shape oil and gas regulations in Garfield County. Bower said the group has so far met once.
Oil and Gas Liaison Kirby Wynn said officials are still in the process of formulating regulations.
“It was a very intensive process,” he said. “The oil and gas commission basically rewrote the entire rule book… Western and rural Colorado, we’re really teed up to be the sacrificial lambs in a lot of ways.
In response, Jankovsky — a staunch opponent of Gov. Jared Polis — brought up the current state of Colorado legislation, once again referring to Polis as a “dictator” because he doesn’t “represent the will of the people.”
“I’m not a friend of this governor. He’s not a friend of Western Colorado,” he said. “This governor is truly an urban governor and so is the state legislature.”
The commission said they plan to impose cuts for the upcoming 2020 budget.
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