City’s RTA spending plans face scrutiny
Board questions vehicles, building, transit marketing

       Worried that some Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) money may be getting steered in the wrong direction, RTA board members voted unanimously April 13 to table approval of various work contracts until city staff clarifies certain issues.
       Of concern to the board members - all elected officials from the RTA's four member governments - are proposed contracts presented at the meeting calling for a 3-year, $800,000 contract to market future transit-system expansions and for $530,000 in vehicles that would be used by RTA-hired contract employees and become city property.
       Board members also balked at news of a $1.3-million facility planned by Colorado Springs Public Works in the north part of town (partly using RTA money), and asked for greater involvement from the board's Citizen Advisory Committee.
       Among the board members raising these issues were County Commissioner Sallie Clark and Council member Jerry Heimlicher, each of whose districts include the Westside. Both expressed concerns that Public Works was blurring the line between its budget and the RTA's.
       Regarding the transit-marketing expense, Heimlicher opined that Springs Transit already has a promotional budget, and Clark said the public might view an $800,000 public-relations expense with even greater disdain than when state transportation officials revealed a few weeks ago that they'd spent some $20,000 to invent “COSMIX” as an I-25 widening nickname.
       City Public Works Director Ron Mitchell, who is planning how the city will implement RTA projects within its boundaries, argued back that the $800,000 will help educate the public on how transit upgrades could benefit them. “If we put money into (expanding) the system and don't get riders, we'll get criticized,” he said.
       Of the citizens committee, he said he is “really under the gun to get this done” and suggested that greater citizen involvement might slow the process.
       On the contract employees and building questions, Mitchell said board members last month approved a budget including these items. He said he foresees a $1.5 million expense for the employees. He provided no details about the building, except that it would be used to staff some workers and equipment and that it “would not be exclusively an RTA expense.”
       Having contract employees would help city staff, who otherwise would be unable to keep up with the demands of supervising and implementing the RTA work, according to the concept previously presented by Public Works.
       Several board members said they remembered approving that, but not a building.
       On the vehicle issue, Clark said, “I don't know if the RTA should be paying for vehicles. Philosophi-cally, I don't feel comfortable in spending $530,000 for this. I think the public expects the money to be spent on projects.”
       Mitchell responded that the contract employees will need vehicles for field work related to RTA projects. Asked by council member/board member Larry Small who would ultimately own the vehicles, Mitchell said the city would. “I can't support that (approach),” Small re-sponded.
       City Mayor Lionel Rivera, who chairs the RTA board, said that the discussion had led him to rethink his contract-employees approval, because last month he did not realize the concept would lead to those employees needing RTA-purchased vehicles or a new building to work in.
       Clark said the city concept differs from that of the county, which is bidding out RTA projects in its jurisdiction to private contractors, who will then be responsible for their own vehicles, equipment, ad-ministrative needs, etc.
       The board scheduled a special meeting Friday, April 29 at 1:30 p.m., asking Mitchell to provide a fuller explanation of his proposals at that time.
       The RTA is funded by a 1-cent sales tax, approved by voters last fall. The tax proceeds (anticipated to be about $65 million this year) are earmarked for a list of transportation projects that were stated on the election ballot as well as for road maintenance and transit upgrades.

Westside Pioneer article