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Avon buses to start charging fares

Matt Zalaznick

Officials say they realize that the move to start charging $1-a-ride in August will upset some riders and drive others away, but funding the free transportation service is gouging a $270,000 crater in a town budget that’s already spending $400,000 more than anticipated.

It’s one of several steps the Town Council has taken to balance revenues and expenditures.

“We either have to charge fares or cut service,” Mayor Judy Yoder said last week.

Drop in income

The town is spending $270,000 to subsidize its free bus service. A 12.5 percent drop in sales taxes revenues in April, and a 3 percent drop for the year compared to 2001 are compounding the worry for town officials scrambling to stop the bleeding.

Five years ago, sales tax revenue was jumping by 10 to 12 percent a year. But over the past few years, growth in this revenue, like growth overall, has slowed to about 3 and 4 percent a year, town Finance Director Scott Wright said.

The plunge in this year’s sales tax revenues, which funds much of the town’s operations, is leading to predictions of no growth at all for 2002, Wright said.

But Mark Strickland, part owner of the Avon Bakery and Deli, said he’s been busy because of a strong local following.

“Our business has been pretty good,” Strickland said. “We have a good local following, so our business stays pretty steady through the course of the year. We don’t have the ups and down the resort-oriented businesses have.”

Councilman Buz Reynolds said the best solution to the decline in business in an economy entirely dependent on tourism is “snow.”

“I’m not seeing people in the restaurants. I’m not seeing as many people here,” Reynolds said. “Until the country feels more comfortable and we see lots of snow, we’re not going to see these problems go away.”

Some local business people are optimistic that sales tax revenues will pick up again.

“There was a little bit of lull, but we’ve been doing OK. It’s been pretty steady,” said Jon Holland, assistant manager at Mojo Music. “We’ve been doing enough to get by. Of course, our busiest months are December and January and we’ve been doing some days in the off-season that we usually don’t get until the winter.”

Fares to ride

Starting Aug. 1, the fare for the town and Hurd Lane shuttles will be $1 a ride. The fare will be the same for the town’s skier shuttle in the winter.

But riders on the town and Hurd Lane shuttles will get a discount that skiers won’t.

Council members said that because more locals ride the town and Hurd Lane shuttles, they will be able to buy coupon books that will give them 20 rides for $10.

“I’d like to see the skier shuttle stay at a dollar and do the coupons for town and Hurd shuttle,” Yoder said.

Councilwoman Debbie Buckley said she thinks the skiers – most of whom are tourists – should bear all the cost for the shuttles. She said there should be no charge for the town and Hurd Lane shuttles.

“No one’s going to ride the shuttles in the summer,” she said. “When people are on vacation, they’re already spending a gazillion dollars. What’s another $2? I think the skiers should be charged more than a dollar and we shouldn’t charge on the town shuttles.”

Newly sworn-in Councilman Brian Sipes said he worried that charging for buses could take customers away from Avon’s businesses, some of which are struggling for shoppers.

Charging fares will trim the ridership on the skier shuttle by 25 percent and cut the number of riders on the other shuttles in half, Transportation Director Larry Taylor said.

But buses aren’t the only place the town is scrambling to save money. Several vacant positions in the town government –including an empty police officer’s position –will be left unfilled.

This hiring freeze should save the town about $163,000 in salary and benefits, Wright said.

In other cost-saving measures, Town Manager Bill Efting has also asked each of his departments to cut costs by 5 percent. Efting had a gloomy prediction if business in town doesn’t pick up.

“We’re still fine, but we’re not great. We have to come back at the end of August to see if the deficit in sales tax turns around,” Efting said. “If it hasn’t changed by the end of summer, we’ll have to go to drastic measures.”

Matt Zalaznick covers public safety, Eagle County Courts and Avon/ Beaver Creek. He can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or by e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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