Survey results see solid support for continuance of RTA

2008 ballot deadline approaching

This fall the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) may ask voters to renew the sales tax that funds the organization. A recent phone survey conducted by Western State College indicated the RTA has an encouraging chance of succeeding at the polls.



The RTA is responsible for ensuring that airlines fly into the local airport, through funding guarantees, as well as finding solutions to ground transportation issues. Funding for the RTA is provided through a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2002, a 0.6 percent sales tax across the valley, with the exception of the city of Gunnison, which pays a 0.35 percent sales tax. The tax is not charged in outlying Gunnison County communities such as Marble and Pitkin.
That funding arrangement is set to expire in 2010, giving the RTA two chances to renew its funding, either in this year’s November election or during the subsequent election in 2009.
Earlier this winter the RTA hired sociology professor Dr. Caroline Mitchell’s quantitative research methods class at Western State College to conduct a phone survey of Gunnison County voters to gauge support for a ballot question. The phone survey was conducted over the course of three weeks in February and March.
During a regular meeting on Friday, April 11, RTA director Scott Truex gave board members a report on the survey results.
According to the report, 995 registered voters were called and 256 responded to the survey. Respondents were evenly split between male and female, and 50 percent were within the ages of 25 and 50. Sixty-six percent of the respondents lived within the city of Gunnison. Ninety-eight percent of the respondents said they intended to vote in the 2008 election.
The questions ranged from familiarity with the RTA, to rating the RTA’s ground and air service.
According to the results, 88 percent of the people surveyed were familiar with the RTA and its programs, but not everyone knew what the RTA stands for—73 percent could correctly identify the RTA as a transportation organization.
In contrast to the percentage of people who know about the RTA, only 31 percent said they had used the RTA’s services (bus, air, or both).
The survey group was also asked to rate the RTA’s services. The RTA’s efforts at ground transportation between Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte and Gunnison received a 7.1 out of 10, and the RTA’s efforts at organizing air service options scored a 6.1 out of 10.
Although more than half of the respondents said they were unfamiliar with how the RTA was funded, 88 percent said they would support continued funding of the RTA.
The RTA was also considering asking Gunnison voters to increase their sales tax contribution to .6 percent, to match the rest of the valley. Fifty-nine percent of Gunnison voters were against an increase, but 86 percent would still support continued funding.
RTA board member Kimberly Metsch asked Truex if he found any of the information surprising. Truex said he wasn’t sure how the bus service would score since it was a new program, but said, “I’m surprised the air service scored as well as it did.”
Board member Stu Furgeson said, “It was a good survey. The results are pretty helpful.”
Truex said the deadline to begin a ballot submission is June 13, and the board would need to get some basic ballot language together before that.
He said attorney Rod Landwehr will be forming the ballot language for the RTA. Since Landwehr is also the city attorney for Gunnison and the town of Mt. Crested Butte, both towns have agreed there is no conflict in sharing his services with the RTA.
Two questions the board has been considering at recent meetings are if Gunnison voters should be asked to increase their tax burden, and if a “sunset” provision should be included that would terminate the RTA’s tax funding at a future date. The original ballot question authorizing the RTA included such a provision, which is why the RTA must renew its tax now.
After hearing the survey results, the RTA board agreed not to ask Gunnison voters for a tax increase, instead opting to ask for just a tax renewal.
After the meeting, board member Jim Starr said, “Our thought was, it is so important that we get this (tax) reauthorized, we don’t want to put any more issues before the voters at this time.”
Concerning the sunset provision, RTA board member Bill Babbitt said prior to the meeting he had spoken with a former Gunnison council member who indicated there could be more opposition if a sunset clause is not included. However, Babbitt said, “I’m not sure how valid that is after looking at the survey results.”
Truex said one argument for leaving out the sunset provision was to give the RTA stability on long-term financial endeavors. “Sometime we’re going to be investing in a maintenance facility, and park and rides… Big capital projects that are 30- to 40-year projects, not five- to seven-year,” Truex said.
Babbitt agreed. “That’s a good argument. It makes a lot of sense,” he said.
Crested Butte resident David Leinsdorf said, “I suspect the people advocating for the sunset are opponents anyway. I’m not sure you’re going to get more support by putting the sunset in.”
Ferguson said that was also a good point. The board then agreed to continue pursuing a ballot question without a sunset provision.
Truex said they would have a draft ballot language ready for the May meeting.
Once a ballot question is formalized, the RTA will also need a ballot issue committee, an organization allowed to collect donations and spend money in support of a ballot issue. Former RTA board member Chris Morgan sent a letter offering his support on the committee, and indicated that he would help the RTA search for interested committee members.
The next RTA meeting is on May 9 in the commissioners meeting room at the Gunnison County Courthouse.

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