RTA backers dispute opposition’s allegations

       False comments are presented against ballot issue 1A in the El Paso County Notice of Election document that was recently mailed out countywide, Mike Kazmierski of the Pikes Peak Transportation Coalition told the Oct. 14 meeting of the Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN).
       Passage of 1A in the Nov. 2 election would create a Rural Transportation Authority (RTA), which would use a 1-cent-on-a- dollar sales tax to build 75 projects - including 7 on the Westside - upgrade mass transit and maintain existing roadways over a decade. The work would be funded with the lion's share of the tax's estimated $70 million-a-year earnings over a decade, after which it would drop to a permanent .45 cents on the dollar to civer continuing maintenance and transit.
       The opposition statements appear under the “Summary of written comments against the proposal” section of the Notice of Election document. Included are allegations that 1A would be “another layer of government… a blank check forever… unlimited COPS without voter approval… billions in bankrupting burdens… no price tags for projects… RTA can lien your property without your consent using special improvement districts and annex property without owner consent or even elections to raise taxes…undue burden of transportation network improvements on current residents…”
       Contradicting criticisms are presented regarding transit. One paragraph states that using RTA money in that area would be unwise because buses are losing money now; elsewhere it states that “there is too little of the money going to mass transit.”
       The author of the comments, as is the policy in such documents, is not given.
       Supporting Kazmierski at the OWN meeting were other elected officials: District 3 County Commissioner-elect Sallie Clark and Colorado Springs City Council members Jerry Heimlicher and Scott Hente (whose districts take in the Westside).
       “There's almost no accountability (in the opposition comments),” Clark said. “People can say what they want.”
       While it is true that no project price amounts appear in the bond issue, the dollar estimates have been made public and add up close to the $700 million that the tax would earn over 10 years.
       Those on the Westside total $18,465,000, with the largest being the $11,550,000 earmarked for the public share of the Centennial Boulevard extension to Fontanero Street at I-25.
       One point that Kazmierski and other elected officials stressed at the meeting was that the ballot issue specifically limits the powers of the RTA board to accomplishing the projects stated in the issue. So the charges about unlimited COPS, property liens have no basis in fact, Kazmierski said.
       Dave Hughes, an OWN board member, questioned the ballot issue as potentially “creating another bureaucracy.”
       Clark and Kazmierski said this would not be the case, because the work will be carried out by transportation chiefs currently in government offices who, as Kazmierski put it, will “manage the flow of the projects.”
       The issue did raise a quibble among supporters at the meeting, in that the bond issue allows up to 1 percent of the money to go for administrative costs. Assuming the tax earns $70 million a year, as anticipated, that would allow up to $700,000 for administration, but Kazmierski said he did not believe that expense would be anywhere near that high.
       Kazmierski and Clark noted that until 1991 there had been a half-cent sales tax that helped the area keep up with infrastructure needs. But when that tax went away, the cities and county started falling behind.
       Heimlicher noted that the city's policy is to repave streets every 10 years. “Right now it's about every 20,” he said.
       Hente, also a developer, rejected the argument that developers don't pay their fair share. He noted that a new development pays for “100 percent of its infrastructure,” which is then handed over to the city.
       Overall, Kazmierski said the RTA would lead to decreased congestion, safer roads, better bus service and individual savings through less wear and tear on vehicles and enhanced property values.
       “It's obvious what the problems are,” OWN board member James Fenimore said. “The roads are falling apart.”

Westside Pioneer article