RFTA ponders how to sell voters from Aspen to New Castle on possible property tax | PostIndependent.com

RFTA ponders how to sell voters from Aspen to New Castle on possible property tax

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times

RFTA hauled a record number of passengers exceeding 5.5 million this year. The regional bus agency is considering seeking a property tax hike in November to help fund its operations and expansion.

RFTA isn't certain yet if it will seek a property tax from voters in November to support the local bus system, but if it does it's got a catchphrase to help sell the idea.

Consultants told the RFTA board of directors at its monthly meeting Thursday that something catchier must replace the Integrated Transportation System Plan — the name of the blueprint for keeping the bus system healthy and growing over the next 25 or so years.

Consultant Bill Ray of WR Communications said a "messaging" committee met recently to kick around ideas for a tag line for the possible RFTA campaign. The favored slogan was: "Destination 2040: Our region's future is riding on RFTA."

The tag line plays off the idea that getting people out of their personal vehicles and into mass transit is vital for mobility in the narrow valley served by one primary artery.

“Destination 2040: Our region’s future is riding on RFTA.”

— possible tag line for property tax campaign

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RFTA board members agreed it would be tough to excite voters about something called the Integrated Transportation System Plan. They had a few suggestions about the tag line but generally expressed support.

"It's clever," Basalt Mayor and RFTA board member Jacque Whitsitt said.

RFTA depends on a sales tax collected in member towns from Aspen to New Castle as well as Pitkin County and the Roaring Fork portion of Eagle County. In addition it collects fares and has traditionally reaped state and federal grants. The grants are largely drying up, so RFTA commissioned a study to determine how much money will be needed to cover everything from replacing aging buses to expanding service to meet growing needs.

Work headed by Parsons Transportation Group identified tens of millions of dollars of capital projects the bus agency needs to pursue over the next 30 years.

A property tax of between 3 and 5 mills is being contemplated to pay for future service and capital improvements. A property tax hike of 5 mill would raise an estimated $17.5 million annually while 3 mill would raise $10.5 million annually.

"At 5 mill, there's enough to fund the whole enchilada, essentially," said Ralph Trapani, an executive with Parsons Corp. and a former CDOT engineer who oversaw construction of Interstate 70 through Glenwood Springs and widening of Highway 82 in the Roaring Fork Valley.

A property tax increase of 3 mills probably wouldn't cover all of RFTA's needs, Trapani said. That assumes the agency must provide funding for about 68 percent of all its capital improvements over the next 30 years.

RFTA conducted a survey of likely voters in the region earlier this winter and found that while there is solid support for the agency, approval of a ballot question isn't a slam-dunk.

A series of public outreach meetings and consultations with elected officials are planned in April to provide information and gauge reactions to the tax concept. RFTA's board of directors will digest the information at a retreat in May and likely determine in June if a ballot question should be pursued in November. If so, ballot language would have to be set by late August.