Park-and-ride funding welcome
At a time when the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has been struggling financially, any good news on the RFTA money front is most welcome.
Some recently came in the form of word that RFTA has received $2 million in federal funding to build two park-and-ride lots for Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.
The two communites are contributing $600,000 in cash and in-kind donations to cover the rest of the cost of the facilities.
U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis and U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both Colorado Republicans, should be thanked for their efforts to secure the park-and-ride lots. The federal money was originally earmarked for RFTA’s bus rapid transit program. But there were no immediate studies on which it could be spent. The money would have been lost to RFTA by October if the two lawmakers hadn’t pushed for bill language allowing it to be used for the park-and-rides instead.
Some might wish the park-and-ride funds could go toward RFTA operational expenses. RFTA is facing deficits that could average $3.5 million a year. That raises “doubts as to the long-term sustainability of the organization,” according to RFTA finance director Heather Copp.
But the solution to such an entrenched fiscal problem isn’t going to come through federal bailouts. RFTA already has trimmed service and wage costs. To do much more cutting would jeopardize its ability to carry out its important mission. To avoid that, RFTA’s board has little choice but to propose a sales tax increase to voters.
That may be hard to swallow after Roaring Fork Valley communities just passed a tax in 2000 to fund RFTA. But that funding turned out not to be enough, thanks to a souring economy. One way for RFTA to sell a tax increase might be to set an expiration date for it, under the assumption that as the economy picks up steam again, the tax hike will no longer be needed.
Meanwhile, RFTA’s financial plight only underscores the need for unincorporated Garfield County to join the organization, and for its voters to approve a sales tax for RFTA. Sales tax information from the state Department of Revenue suggests the revenues from such a tax could be higher than many had expected, as unincorporated Garfield County has a sales tax base larger than most local towns and cities.
Now is the time for not just the county but the downvalley communities of New Castle, Silt and Rifle to join an organization that already serves their residents, reduces congestion on their highways and desperately needs their financial support.
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