Government officials representing the town of Telluride, Mountain Village and San Miguel County once again tried to start-up a discussion on the subject of regional transportation- here's  Q & A that recently took place...........

Telluride Agrees to Revisit IGA on Regional Transit Authority

By Gus Jarvis | Telluride

TELLURIDE – In a one-step-forward, three-steps-backward conversation about regional transportation, elected officials from the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village and San Miguel County recently agreed on at least three things: a Regional Transit Authority is needed, voters should be given a detailed ballot question to form a new authority in the November 2016 election, and to get there, the 2014 Intergovernmental Agreement that would have put a RTA on the ballot that year should be revisited with a new council in Telluride.

But consensus on the details of a new RTA’s taxing authority and its designated sphere of oversight and control – including intra-town bus services and operation/ownership of the Mountain Village Gondola after 2027 – remains elusive. The current county-funded Down Valley bus service faces budgetary shortfalls, and San Miguel Commissioners will discuss a possible tax ballot question on Aug. 19 to keep Down Valley bus service operational.

The July 30 meeting at Telluride’s Wilkinson Public Library was intended to further the conversation about other modalities of public transportation in the region, with hopes of finding agreement on the foundation and overall concept of creating a RTA within San Miguel County.

“If we don’t agree on the big concepts, the issues will continue to trip us up,” paid meeting facilitator Noel Hagen told the attending elected officials and the handful of staff members who were at the meeting.

Low Hanging Fruit

Hoping stay out of “the weeds” of contentious details, Hagen pushed the conversation forward with several questions intended to reveal whether if the three bodies of elected officials could at least agree on basic concepts, or “low hanging fruit,” to build a foundation for more discussion.

Question 1 asked if the individual intra-town bus systems in Mountain Village and Telluride should continue to be operated and managed by the municipalities, should an RTA be formed.

After some discussion, officials generally agreed that, for the time being, Mountain Village and Telluride run such well-operated systems that they would each remain in charge of operating their own separate bus systems. However, everyone also agreed that could change should it be something the new RTA’s board of directors decides to take up, once it’s formed in the future.

Cross Question 1 off the list.

Question 2 asked if regional inter-jurisdictional transportation should be provided through the new RTA. Again, for the most part everyone agreed, with Telluride Councilor Bob Saunders inserting a caveat that “Everything that we are doing now is fine.”

Cross Question 2 off the list.

“Do we consider the gondola regional transportation?” Hagen asked in Question 3.

Everyone agreed that it was. Question 3 was considered low hanging fruit, and crossed off the list.

Question 3A asked if the Mountain Village Gondola should exist as part of the region’s public transportation system beyond 2027 when Mountain Village’s legal obligation to operate and maintain it ends.

Besides Saunders’ concern over “who owns it, who funds it, how does it exist” after 2027, Telluride Councilor Jenny Patterson took issue over what the future involvement of the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association and the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. may entail.

“They create a complexity that goes beyond what is in this room,” Patterson said.

With some hesitation and no answers given, the discussion moved forward, however, and 3A was more or less agreed upon and crossed off the list.

Question 4 asked if participants supported the formation of an RTA to manage regional transportation. The question sparked more pushback from Saunders.

“I have basic fundamental disagreements with a RTA being a benefit to our community in Telluride,” Saunders said. “One of the problems I have is people living out of town and working in town. We have a small economic model here. When most of the people work in town and live out of town, they get their paychecks and head home. It depresses wages and you see more of a vanishing community here in town…both economically and community-wise. There are problems when you get your workforce from out of town.”

“You are afraid it could weaken the community?” Hagen asked.

“Yes, potentially it could weaken our community and potentially our economy.”

After Saunders aired his concern, Patterson tried to keep the conversation moving forward by offering a simplified explanation of what a RTA does, and might do for Telluride.

“It’s about getting people from point A to point B,” Patterson said. “As a region, how do we move our tourists and residents?”

Once again with some trepidation, the question was crossed off with agreement and Hagen moved forward with Question 4A: “Do you believe a RTA is a logical funding source for regional transportation?”

Build a Nest Or Hatch an Egg?

“I think this question gets back to the first question that had to do with our bus services,” Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said. “Are the [Mountain Village and Telluride] bus systems going to continue to be funded as they are now? Or are we saying that with a RTA they will be funded by the RTA?”

Hagen said everyone agreed the answer to that question is to leave each town funding their own bus service – at least, for the time being.

“I think when we start talking about what comes under the umbrella of a RTA and funding – what are we paying now and what will we continue to pay that won’t be a part of the RTA – that leads us to the Gondola. Are we in a position to adequately fund a RTA without considering the two towns?”

The philosophy on just how to build and create a new RTA was then brought up by Mountain Village Mayor Dan Jansen who used a nest and egg as a metaphor to describe two ways of moving forward.

“Do we want to build the nest or hatch the egg?” Jansen asked, explaining that the approach to an RTA could either be to build the nest and let the newly formed RTA board of directors figure their governing details out in the future, or to have the three governments currently at the table hatch the egg themselves by hammering out each and every detail, including whether or not the RTA should fund the two towns’ bus systems or not, and who will run the Mountain Village Gondola after 2027.

“I am more of a nest guy,” Jansen said. “Do we want to come up with a solution to the gondola pre-2027 or have the gondola be dealt with post-RTA creation? I want to get to issues like that – that is where disagreement is.”

At that point Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton reminded the group that the way a RTA is created must not only be palatable to all three governments, but ultimately to voters. Clifton suggested that taking the route whereby a newly formed RTA makes the tough decisions after being formed may seem to lack details in voters’ eyes. And details, Clifton said, are what voters want.

“Voters are suspicious of new government,” Clifton said. “The notion that we create an entity then bestow on them to figure out how to serve and function over time, it’s a non-starter. It’s creating a government without specificity. I don’t see voters going there. It would be incumbent upon all of you to sell something to the voters that they can get their hands on.”

In a ballot question regarding the formation of a RTA, “Do you include the gondola or can it be set aside?” Hagen asked.

Jansen, for one, said it must be included, because to set it aside would be a nonstarter for Mountain Village voters.

“In Mountain Village the political reality is if we don’t include the gondola, the chance of it passing up there is zero,” Jansen said. “Conversely, in Telluride, when you include the gondola in it, people are going to say Mountain Village is trying to get out of their deal [with the gondola]. What we need to figure out is how to handle threading the needle and to figure out how the two towns get into agreement, along with the county.”



Back to the IGA

In the later part of the fur-hour discussion, Hagen made the observation that many individual councilors – particularly Telluride councilors – were not in agreement on many issues. She suggested that future negotiations would benefit if representatives from each local government presented more unified positions rather than individual positions.

“It sounds to me like the Town of Telluride, as a council, you are split on a lot of this this?” Hagen asked Fraser. Indeed, it was because of a split on the Telluride Town Council in 2014 that an intergovernmental agreement to put an RTA question on the ballot ultimately failed as both San Miguel County and Mountain Village approved the IGA.

“Council, as is seated now, is supportive of an RTA but we haven’t defined what should be in an RTA,” Fraser answered. “What has to happen in the future is there has to be clarity on what an RTA is providing above and beyond what is already being done.”

Hagen said if progress is to be made, each jurisdiction must present a unified voice.

“It’s not going to work to keep having these conversations,” she said. “We are at a point in this conversation that we can’t be individuals. You have to be entities.”

Telluride Councilor Ann Brady suggested that after cleaning up some language on the 2014 IGA that was approved by Mountain Village and San Miguel County, it should perhaps go before the Telluride Town Council again, which now has some newly elected councilors.

Fraser agreed it was a worthy idea to revisit the document with the Telluride Town Council as a stepping-stone to moving forward.

“Lets go back to the existing IGA and see whether the county and Mountain Village feel its an appropriate piece of paper for us to look at,” Fraser said. “If we can’t get through that IGA, we can’t get to a RTA.”

Commissioners Joan May and Art Goodtimes agreed that revisiting the document is a good step forward while councilors from Mountain Village agreed that they would revisit it within their own chambers as well.

Everyone agreed, while not setting a date, to continue to move the conversation forward with a goal of achieving a ballot question in the November 2016 election. While the group could come to some agreement on goals and revisiting the 2014 draft IGA, Clifton warned that the hard work was yet to come.

“These are not easy issues,” Clifton said. “It’s going to take a lot to get through this. One takeaway, in my opinion, is that there are going to have to be some leaps of faith in this process.

“It’s not going to be any easier next time.”