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.”