Fewer buses on Vail Valley roads?
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” After working for years to get ridership to its current high levels, ECO Transit clearly doesn’t want to cut back services in Colorado’s Vail Valley.
But ECO, which provides bus service along the Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 6 corridors from Dotsero to Vail, is facing a stressed budget caused by increases in administrative fees. The fees are charged by Eagle County for administrative services ” such as human resources, accounting, information technology and legal services.
“The amount we have been charging ECO for years has been too low,” said John Lewis, Eagle County financial director.
Sara Fisher, an Eagle County Commissioner agreed.
“We felt that the fee we were charging was inordinately light as far as what other counties do and how they charge out to enterprise funds,” said Fisher.
The county hired a consultant company to re-evaluate what administrative fees should be for each department based on the use of services. The study suggested that ECO should pay about $1.2 million for administrative fees ” about $1 million more than ECO was charged two years ago.
The Eagle County Regional Transportation Authority Board thinks this price tag is too high.
“ECO believes whatever administrative fee it generates it should pay,” said Jeff Shroll, a member of the Eagle County Regional Transportation Authority Board. “But the administrative fee is not $1.2 million ” I can tell you that. And I am going to fight like crazy from keeping it from being that.”
Shroll says that the ECO board does not know where the $1.2 million amount was derived.
“There are some expenditures in there that make you scratch your head and say, ‘What?'” Shroll said.
The ECO board is trying to convince county commissioners to reduce the administrative fee.
“We, as a board, have not had a discussion about the reduction in a administrative fee,” Fisher said. “At this point in time, we feel that we were appropriate in the fee that we charged. However, we are going to look into greater detail and talk to the consultant to hone down that amount.”
Lewis maintained that about $1.2 million is an appropriate fee. Lewis argued that the county’s general fund, partly made up of property tax and sales tax, has been used to cover the cost of administrative services used by ECO. Lewis believes it is not fair that taxpayers who don’t use the bus system have to pay for ECO’s services.
“Taxpayers’ money should not be spent on paying for ECO. ECO should be self-supporting,” Lewis said.
Lewis added that if ECO does not pay an increased administrative fee, other county services are at risk. If the administrative fee is not reduced, cuts in ECO’s budget will have to be made, he said.
ECO will have to increase fares, cut costs, reduce services, and make other sacrifices to balance ECO’s budget, said Matt Scherr, a member of the ECO board.
“If the commissioners want it to stand, you are going to see a lot fewer ECO buses on the road,” Shroll said. “The taxpayer will get hurt in the cross fire.”
Although Lewis believes the revised ECO fees are fair, he understands the hardship being placed on the bus system.
“This is a big increase and it is painful,” Lewis said.
Lewis said that is the reason the county commissioners have granted ECO $500,000 in 2009 to help pay for the increased fee.
“It clearly is an important issue to us,” said Fisher. “We don’t want to compromise ECO’s bus service and we don’t want to compromise ECO as an organization. However, at this point in time it is run as a county department and so it is important that it pay its appropriate share of overall county expenses.”