RFTA service in Rifle must continue, says CEO
The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has an obligation to continue bus service to Rifle even though residents west of New Castle have spurned a tax to help pay for it, according to the head of the organization.RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said the results of the Nov. 2 election won’t jeopardize the Hogback service, which will haul an estimated 50,000 passengers between Rifle and Glenwood Springs or points in between this year.Buses make eight eastbound trips from Rifle and seven westbound trips from Glenwood Springs per day, starting at 5:21 a.m. and ending at 6:57 p.m. That route serves New Castle, Silt and a stop in unincorporated Garfield County in addition to the towns of Glenwood Springs and Rifle.Glenwood has been a regular funding partner in RFTA since a sales tax was instituted in the Roaring Fork Valley for bus service in 2000. Glenwood residents voted on Nov. 2 to increase their tax to 0.6 percent.New Castle residents voted on Nov. 2 to join RFTA and start charging a 0.4 percent sales tax. Silt residents rejected that same proposal. Residents of unincorporated Garfield County also defeated a proposal to join RFTA and institute a tax.The town of Rifle has never placed a question on the ballot asking residents if they want to start a sales tax to join RFTA.Blankenship acknowledged that the failure of Silt, Rifle and Garfield County to pay what’s regarded as their fair share for service has has sparked discussions within RFTA about what level of service they should receive. Representatives of upper valley governments such as Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village have at times in the past rattled sabers and demanded that downvalley towns pay for service or else.On the other hand, Blankenship noted, the Hogback service in the Interstate 70 corridor is important to Glenwood Springs, which is a full-fledged paying member. “I think we would have some real discontent if that service was discontinued,” he said.The issue is probably a moot point due to intergovernmental agreements between RFTA and Garfield County, Silt and New Castle. Those governments inked deals before the election that RFTA would “hold service harmless” in the I-70 corridor for 18 months regardless of the election outcome.The deal was first required by Garfield County in case its residents approved joining RFTA but Silt and New Castle declined. County officials didn’t want to risk potential retributive action by RFTA.”They didn’t want to join and have the service yanked out from under them,” Blankenship said.Silt and New Castle officials required the same agreement.In addition to that agreement, Blankenship said cutting Hogback service would be a poor way to try to encourage Silt, Rifle and Garfield County to join some day.Although the RFTA votes failed in Silt and Garfield County, the bus agency did receive a funding boost from the upper valley governments as well as Basalt, Eagle County, Carbondale and Glenwood in the Nov. 2 election. The extra tax funds allowed the agency to avoid a fiscal crisis and, Blankenship said, Hogback service could be maintained for the next decade with RFTA budgets remaining in the black.Garfield County contributed $25,000 for Hogback service last year. No funds have been committed this year, according to Blankenship. RFTA is seeking $7,500 from Rifle.Garfield County contributed $25,000 for Hogback service last year. No funds have been committed this year, according to Blankenship. RFTA is seeking $7,500 from Rifle.
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