by Mark Reaman
Public outreach campaign laying the groundwork for possible tax proposal
The public education program initiated by the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) with the help of the Magellan Consulting Group has begun. The idea is to reach out to local organizations and hold a discussion about what the RTA does—one part of the equation for the RTA board to use when deciding whether to go to the voters this fall and ask for a sales tax increase to expand services.
A mailer has been sent to all registered voters. Meetings have been held with some Western State Colorado University groups and Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s management team. The board will divvy up other local groups to approach about meeting, such as the local chambers of commerce, the Rotary Club and the Elks, etc.
“Feedback has been good so far and people are interested in both the air and the bus aspects of the RTA and what we’re doing,” explained board member Jonathan Houck.
At the May 1 RTA meeting, there was also some discussion of keeping local businesses in the loop with any proposed tax increase initiative. RTA air consultant Kent Myers warned against the new Air Alliance muddying the waters by asking for business donations to help fund more airlines service into the valley while at the same time proposing a tax increase.
“I see them as parallel course,” said Crested Butte Mountain Resort president Ethan Mueller. “Both elements are needed to move forward.
“We need to explain why we need all this to make the program successful,” added RTA chairman Paula Swenson.
Alpine holds onto RTA bus contract
The board chose to award the contract for running the RTA buses to Alpine Express. The contract is for one year with four more annual options. The Mountain Express bus system had also submitted a bid and, while the board was confident either group could do a good job, they decided to go with Alpine.
Movement toward compressed natural gas
The board agreed to write a letter of support for a Clean Energy grant request to the Colorado Energy Office for building a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station in Gunnison.
“I have had some concerns with CNG with the buses at this altitude and in the temperatures we get,” said Truex. “But there are ways to deal. I am getting more comfortable with the issues.”
Truex said the letter of support was not a guarantee the RTA would convert from diesel to CNG. “But I think the intent is to convert the fleet if we can get over all the concerns we have,” he said.
John Cattles, Gunnison County facilities manager, said this was a great opportunity to obtain some state money to begin the process toward going to CNG. “This is new technology and RFTA has put two million miles on their CNG buses,” he said. “There are issues with diesel too.”
“This is a first step in a long process and worth doing,” said RTA chairman Paula Swenson.
Saving $ for future buses
The board moved $245,000 from its general fund to its capital fund. The idea is to increase the amount set aside for future new buses, which will be expensive. Each new bus replacement will cost between $600,000 and $670,000. Even with the 80 percent grant that has been awarded for the first bus, the RTA board will still have to put up more than $120,000 for the purchase and future grants are not guaranteed.
In future years, Truex is asking to set aside $200,000 a year in the capital fund. “We are planning instead of hoping for the best,” he said. “My recommendation is to get the buses we need with the help of grants if possible. We can always move that money back if we get more grant funds. It’s not binding but it will show our intent.”
The general fund will still have a $680,000 surplus and the capital fund would have more than $500,000 in reserves.