For the second year in a row, a bill that would allow Parker residents to decide if they want to leave the Regional Transportation District has been introduced into the legislature.
The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, has returned after the Town of Parker continues to be unsatisfied by the transportation services provided to the community.
“I think this is a long game and I think that is the only thing that brings us back to the table with RTD,” Parker Mayor Jeff Toborg said during a Jan. 10 work session. “I think we have to go back.”
Toborg added that the town’s return on investment for RTD has continued to decrease since the pandemic began. In 2021, the town paid about $15 million to RTD through sales tax remittance, Toborg said.
Julien Bouquet, the RTD director who represents Parker, said he was surprised to see the bill being reintroduced after the transportation district returned two bus lines to the town over the past year.
“I felt like we were on a pretty good path with the Town of Parker,” he told Colorado Community Media.
Those two bus lines — Route P and Route 483 — are also now included in RTD’s strategic optimization plan, which means they aren’t planned to be eliminated any time soon, Bouquet said.
If approved, Senate Bill 22-046 would be the first of several steps toward the town’s possible departure from RTD.
The bill is set to be considered by the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Feb. 1.
Last year, during a hearing in front of the Transportation & Local Governments Committee, Parker leaders and residents voiced their dissatisfaction with the transportation district. RTD representatives also spoke, saying they would work to improve the level of service provided there.
“Simply put, Douglas County has received the short end of the stick,” said RTD Director Doug Tisdale, who represents portions of Douglas County, during that meeting. “I have pledged to fix that inequity.”
In response, Ransom announced that she would withdraw the bill but promised it would return the following year if RTD didn’t follow through on its promises.
While RTD has restored the earlier bus lines since then, Parker says the return on investment is still abysmal.
During a Jan. 24 work session Parker councilmember Todd Hendreks responded to that return of service saying: “Thank you, but the existing service prior to that, it’s horrible.”
There is a mix of opinions among Parker Town Council members about if the bill will be successful in the legislature or, if approved there, with local voters. In a Jan. 10 work session, Toborg said he believes it could pass in the Senate but councilmember Josh Rivero disagreed, saying he would prefer to wait until it has a better opportunity to pass and that running the bill each year could dilute its impact.
“It’s going to become a joke ‘Parker is running the bill again,’” he said. “I’m worried about the reputation of this town.”
Councilmember Laura Hefta said in that meeting she supports running the bill every year “until it gets completed.”
“I think that the legislature has to be aware of the bigger picture that some towns, i.e. Parker, are not getting any value for their money and if we don’t, more or less, bring this up every year and get this passed eventually, then it’s not going to happen,” she said.
If the bill passes in the legislature, one of two things would need to happen for the residents to be able to take it to a vote: either the the town’s council would have to adopt two resolutions to add the necessary questions to the ballot or two petitions for the questions would each need to be signed by at least 5% of the town.
The bill stipulates there would need to be two ballot questions to determine the future of the town’s relationship with RTD. One question would ask voters if the town should be included in RTD services and subject to paying taxes for it. Another question would ask if it should be excluded from both.
The bill has the same framing as the one that removed Castle Rock from the district in 2005.
If neither question wins a majority of the voters, RTD’s boundary within the town will stay the same. If both questions win a majority, only the one with the highest number of votes will be enacted, according to the bill.
If a majority of the town votes to leave RTD, the departure would happen in 2050, unless the district refinances its debts sooner. Until then, RTD would continue to collect sales tax in the town. The bill adds that in that scenario RTD must “(provide) the Town of Parker with a level of service that is reasonably proportional to the amount of sales taxes that are received by the district from the area.”
That means RTD must provide at least a 50% return on Parker’s taxes given to the district, according to the bill. In 2019, the district provided an almost 30% return on the town’s tax remittance, according to data provided by RTD to the town.