Who pays for the Summit Stage?
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BRECKENRIDGE – Looking at a roughly $250,000 budget shortfall in the preliminary 2012 budget, questions of long-term funding options are looming for Summit Stage officials.
As the transit service faces the budget crunches felt countywide and confronts problems with travel times, falling ridership and political fallout on future service plans, who pays and how much are issues that may come under scrutiny in the coming months.
“I think we need to start looking at whether or not the ski areas are paying their fair share of the benefits they’re getting from the Stage,” transit board president Kent Willis said. “We need to start looking at that and start having a discussion about whether the ski areas are fairly contributing or not.”
The Summit Stage is an approximately $7.3-million operation, funded largely by a voter-approved .75 percent sales tax.
The tax is collected countywide, with more than 30 percent coming from sales based in Breckenridge, approximately 20 percent from unincorporated Summit County and Silverthorne sales, and 14 and 12 percent from sales in Frisco and Dillon, respectively.
Though the Stage is a county agency, it is directed primarily by a transit board, made up of representatives from the towns of Breckenridge, Silverthorne, Frisco, Dillon, the county and each of the four ski areas.
Not represented on the board are the towns of Heeney and Blue River, both of which have said they hope to eventually have a voice on the board as well as transit service in their parts of the county.
“We’ve been talking to the (transit board) and county commissioners for a few years about the lack of service in southern Summit County,” Blue River town trustee Jon Warnick said. “We think if we have a seat on the board we’ll be able to express the opinion that our tax dollars that we’ve been paying for the service could be used for the service. With our input, maybe we can realign some of the schedules.”
The Stage currently serves Silverthorne, Dillon, Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin directly.
The Summit ski areas are direct beneficiaries of the transit system, as both customers and employees of the resorts use the transit service.
The Summit Stage system was started, and initially funded, by the ski resorts, Willis said, and seen as an amenity primarily for visitors to the county. But as the system grew, the county eventually took over its operation, and later voters approved a sales tax to keep the service available to tourists and employees.
While some said they would consider paying into the Stage if needed, it wasn’t clear whether all the ski resorts would be willing to discuss the idea.
“I think we’d be open to it at this point,” Copper Mountain spokesman David Roth said.
Vail Resorts, which owns Breckenridge and Keystone as well as its own airport shuttle service – Colorado Mountain Express – was non-commital.
“Vail Resorts supports the Stage as an important amenity in our community, and as an active member of the Stage board we are very involved in strategy and planning for the Stage,” Breckenridge Ski Resort spokeswoman Kristin Petitt Stewart stated in an email response to questions about funding the Stage.
The option of fare-based service to bring in additional revenue for the Stage has also been discussed in the past. But charging a fee to ride the bus would require expensive infrastructure additions, such as token or ticket sales kiosks, vaults and fare boxes, and would likely drive away riders.
“The Stage board concluded that it would not be cost effective, and when we put it out, there was a huge outcry from the public saying no, don’t even consider doing this,” Willis said. “I’m not really excited about or interested in looking at that again.”
Regardless, the topic of funding sources and the make up of the Stage board will likely be topics of discussion for Summit Stage officials in the coming months.
“The composition of the board, just like how the Stage is being funded, is just one of those aspects we’re going to have to revisit as part of this planning process,” Willis said. “There’s no question that’s going to happen.”
An extensive future needs study, funded in part by a Colorado Department of Transportation grant, is intended to help inform discussions on both topics, which might take place next year.
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