Idea floated to reduce RTA sales tax to help possible Gunnison sales tax

Understanding but no support

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

RTA board member and Gunnison City councilmember Boe Freeburn floated the idea at the last board meeting of perhaps reducing the RTA’s 1% sales tax rate in an effort to make a proposed city sales tax issue more palatable for Gunnison residents. The city is asking voters to approve a .5% sales tax earmarked for road maintenance that would bring the total city sales tax to 9.4%. He said that getting close to a 10% sales tax level would likely discourage some support so he wondered if the RTA might consider lowering its 1% rate to .8% since the RTA was in solid financial shape with millions of dollars in its fund balances.

“I am just thinking about how we can avoid pushing that 10% sales tax number,” Freeburn said. “I’m just throwing it out there.”

While receiving empathy from the rest of the board, his idea did not garner any support.

“I feel like it is important to keep supporting the RTA,” said board member and Gunnison County commissioner Liz Smith. “It is an essential service in the valley.”

“I hear what you’re saying but don’t anticipate these big sales tax revenues coming into the RTA will last forever,” added RTA executive director Scott Truex. “I too see the service we provide as essential.”

“I’m just thinking of how to help the citizens here,” said Freeburn.

Board member and county commissioner Roland Mason noted that the RTA sales tax did not apply to food or energy purchases.

“I think we are serving the people in the county with both our air and bus programs,” said RTA board chair and Mt. Crested Butte councilmember Janet Farmer. “I think we need to keep the 1% in place.”

“The RTA connects people across the region,” added Smith. “It seems unwise to give up the tax. You would never get it back.”

“The 10% level is scary to a lot of people,” said Freeburn.

“The RTA gets a good return on its dollars spent,” chimed in Tourism and Prosperity Partnership consultant Jeff Moffett.

Mason said he was not sure if there was a legal mechanism that even allowed the board to reduce a sales tax that had been approved by voters. “There is a lot of opportunity to use RTA funds valley-wide,” he said. “Just think about the senior transportation needs it helps fund.”

“That is true, and I don’t see the needs decreasing in the future,” said Truex.

While expressing understanding over the concern of a 10% sales tax threshold, the board did not show any interest in further pursuing Freeburn’s idea.

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