Responsibility for Gondola Funding Throws Wrench Into RTA
by Gus Jarvis
Apr 04, 2013 | 2458 views | 6 6 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

TELLURIDE – Not knowing how the Telluride-to-Mountain Village gondola and its future operating costs will fit into the equation, members of the Telluride Town Council on Tuesday decided that the timing is not right to form a Regional Transit Authority.

Up until Tuesday’s meeting, it seemed that council was ready to ask voters in November to approve the formation of an RTA with other governmental entities in the region. The real question up for debate, it seemed, was whether or not the council would ask voters for a tax increase to fund an RTA.

On Tuesday, council moved away from both questions after a heated and somewhat contentious discussion with Mountain Village Mayor Dan Jansen about how the gondola, a major public transportation link, fit into an RTA, and how operations will be funded after 2027 when the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association’s 30-year obligation to fund the gondola is ended.

Jansen reiterated several times during the discussion that the gondola, owned by the Town of Mountain Village, will be operated safely and properly until Dec. 31, 2027. But without a funding plan in place for capital and operating costs after that date, he emphasized, Mountain Village voter support for an RTA that does not include the gondola is not a given.

“I don’t know what we will do,” Jansen said. “We need to start thinking about a funding source sooner. We have $14 million in reserve for capital improvements. In 2027, if we are at zero, we are in trouble.”

Telluride Councilor Thom Carnevale said he agreed with Jansen in that officials in Mountain Village, Telluride and San Miguel County should begin working on some of those long-range gondola concerns but he doesn’t want TMVOA to “short change” capital improvement responsibilities, effectively leaving the gondola in disrepair at the end of their obligation.

“You would be doing a disservice if you took shortcuts,” Carnevale said.  

Councilor Bob Saunders sees the gondola as an asset owned by Mountain Village and that at some point if it wants to sell the gondola as an asset, Mountain Village would want to sell it as a viable asset and therefore keep up with capital improvements to the full extent that it can.

“It seems to me you would want to sell it as a viable asset, not something that has $20 million worth of maintenance costs,” Saunders said. “The way I see it is that it is your obligation to keep it as a viable asset until 2027. If you want to sell it, it has to be viable. I think the rub on this is going to be that [Telluride] taxpayers aren’t going to want to pay for it until 2028.”

Further complicating Mountain Village’s possible participation in an RTA is the fact that state statutes allow for Mountain Village second homeowners to vote on all things tax-related, thus giving them a voice, should an RTA tax initiative go to ballot. Second homeowners would not have a voice, however, on a ballot issue asking for voter approval of the formation of the RTA (to vote on that issue, voters must be full-time residents of Mountain Village). 

With the future of gondola funding coming into question, councilors Carnevale and Ann Brady suggested that both towns and the county begin discussions regarding long-range gondola planning, outside of discussions regarding an RTA. Carnevale reported hearing from constituents that the timing may not be right for the formation of an RTA and asking for the tax increases that come with it.

“Personally, I couldn’t support putting either one on the ballot,” Carnevale said.

A straw poll about whether or not move forward with ballot proposals at that point in the meeting left council deciding, with Saunders casting the deciding informal vote, to not put forward any RTA ballot questions this year.

It was generally agreed that the gondola’s future financing must be in place before an RTA can be formed.

“I believe the gondola is the umbilical cord between the two communities,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said. “I doubt anyone in this room wants to see it go away. Something has to happen,” he said, with “a small committee that sits down and works toward 2028 and how to handle that.”

Twitter: Gus_Jarvis

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April 04, 2013
Suprise ,suprise ,suprise, Gomer ! The clowncil realizes we have a responsibility in the future ! Hey lets revote the Pearl property, the clowcils doctors needs a new facility,and we,ve diverted the wetlands through a culvert,now its dry-time for an expensive clinic! According to Saunders public facilities are worth more after you use them-a new clinic 50 million will be wortth 100 mill in the future. Just like the gondola-itll be in perfectly new and upgraded condition when the costs are dumped on us .What an asset !Wecould sell it at a profit , really ?
April 03, 2013
There is a God.

Must be.

With no end in types of taxes and the amount of taxes and never a payroll cut the average citizen is strangling to provide dependency to our burgeoning welfare medical care, schooling, food, lunches, buses, clothes, cell phones, lawyers, and the Earned Income Tax Credit which gifts back to the non-taxpayer at the poverty level something like $1800 per kid...and the number of kids to claim is without limit...

Just say no to increasing the growing dependency class here in Telluride..San Miguel County...

In this case, walk, carpool, bike, hike, etc..
April 04, 2013
So -- just checking here -- you Tea Partiers aren't riding on the gondola, with all of us other tacky welfare-class folks, right? Or riding on the Goose, to get home after your shift ends?

You're mostly hiking Boomerang & car pooling between Telluride & Mtn Vlg & Down Valley? Very good.
April 03, 2013
Town Council members ...really?? Because we don't yet know the particulars of how the gondola's funding will come together thirteen years from now, we shouldn't even form an RTA?

We're so green & progressive that we have a surcharge on hot tub installations and we limit the number of skylights a home may have, to decrease nighttime light pollution, but it's not yet time to participate in an RTA?

The gondola is the most visible, most used piece of regional transportation. I'd say it's succeeded beyond most anyone's expectations, in terms of ridership; it's also a tourist draw in & of itself.

So let's roll up our sleeves, participate with the entire region, and deal with all facets of an RTA's purview. And I'll bet that the majority of your constituents -- Telluride's voters and taxpayers -- will agree that the operating & funding of the gondola is not just a TMVOA responsibility. Especially if we have 13 more years to duke out the details.
April 04, 2013
I suppose if it is really true that any municipal entity which enters into the RTA agreement has complete autonomy over future taxation, then there's no harm in joining the RTA other than perhaps having major disagreements / issues from the get go.

If Telluride could be subject to taxation via votes from TMV/SMC voters, then the council is being prudent.

However, the RTA committee has been pitching the former as being the case ... and not sure if this has been vetted by any of the respective town attorneys?

So if the Town of Telluride can't be inflicted with a tax OR saddled with an obligation (such as the gondola) without a majority of Telluride residents voting for such, then there's not much to loose except for perhaps what might be a better start out of the gate for the RTA. In other words, it might start out being unfunded with all entities butting heads ... but at least it'd be an authority. Maybe this is what needs to be done.

However, if there is any legal doubt that once you're in the RTA your in and funding/obligations could be leveraged against your municipality, then I'd say an agreement needs to be worked out prior to the RTA formation. It's just too big a ticket item to put off for later if there's an inherent imbalance.

It's too bad the RTA committee hasn't been able to establish a web presence (that I'm aware of) to answer every little detail and perhaps a forum for communication.

P.S. - about 8 years ago, I did hike up Boomerang to all the Sunset Series Concerts.
April 05, 2013
Yep, put JP down for the gimme helps him sell real estate and that is what counts in these parts...

Basically, JP is saying that he believes that creating a dependent class (the free loaders on the G and the free buses, etc)is a good thing cuz it lines his pocket as a realtor..(not capitalized, on purpose).