This week, Council convened to discuss the latest with RFTA ridership, the success of mental health programs in Basalt schools and what construction remains this year as part of the Midland Avenue Streetscape project.
To begin, Councilor Ryan Slack acknowledged a great final Sunday Market, while Mayor Bill Kane presented a brief RFTA update. While overall RFTA ridership this year was up by 19.8% from 2022, the same value is down 11% from 2019 (pre-pandemic conditions).
This summer in particular saw significant declines in ridership, which Kane attributed both to service issues and commuters becoming accustomed to driving themselves. Since the pandemic, RFTA usage has steadily increased year-by-year, and recent votes to increase bus driver base pay to $30 per hour were given in an effort to improve service and increase ridership. Additionally, RFTA has been refurbishing the Rodeway Inn in Glenwood Springs for 42 units of affordable housing for its workers, hoping to draw in employees with ever-precious housing.
Without a Manager’s Report, Council moved into a series of presentations. The first was a report on mental health outcomes in the Roaring Fork School District, collected in a three-year partnership between the District and Aspen Hope Center to provide counseling for students. Anna Cole, Roaring Fork Schools chief of student and family services, led the presentation. She acknowledged the need for mental health services not only to work with a troubled student but their family as well, but addressing this can be demanding without aid.
“The last thing we want school staff to feel when they’re working really tough situations is that they’re alone, and these types of partnerships really help us feel like we have deeper expertise to wrap around kids and families.”
Cole also noted that, over three years, the need for mental health resources has not declined. However, she added that providing mental health services at a young age — including for kindergartners — reduces stigma against seeking help.
Next was the monthly Midland Avenue Streetscape project update, presented by Project Representative Dave Detwiler and Town Engineer Catherine Christoff. Detwiler announced that, next week, construction teams will be working on the service hookups for both the north and south sides of Midland, meaning temporary outages for businesses.
Additionally, the Homestead/Midland intersection will be experiencing daytime closures on Oct. 2 and 3 due to water line replacement.
“For the most part,” Detwiler said, “construction will move from west to east.” He stated that contractor Stutsman-Gerbaz is on track to finish underground improvements by the end of November this year, with a hard deadline of “before the asphalt plants close.”
In regards to the large clouds of dust being kicked up by construction and aggravated by the recent spate of hot, dry weather, Kane asked how the issue could be addressed. Christoff stated that asphalt mats can be used in the future to help contain some of the dust.
Christoff remained at the table to present an update on the town’s solar project. Started in early 2022, the project encompasses five arrays located on Basalt School grounds and Public Works properties. Currently, one array at Public Works is slated to be installed by the end of November, but due to a lengthy permitting process, the arrays on school property are not expected to be fully installed until spring of next year.
Senior Planner Sara Nadolny then provided an update on the Basalt Public Arts Commission’s 2023 grant program. Started five years ago to integrate arts into the local economy, this year’s program saw eight applicants — more than any previous year — with total funding requests exceeding the budget of $65,000.
The Commission selected seven applicants, directing funding to TACAW — specifically for the annual Pumpkin Jazz event (Oct. 7 this year) — as well as The Art Base, HeadQuarters, VOICES (a Spanish language theater production at TACAW, Oct. 20-22), Aspen Film, Aspen Dance Connection and, uniquely, to local artist Art Williams. Williams will be compositing photographs and stories into a self-portrait of Basalt’s Latinx community, gathering materials by paying for strangers’ laundry at the El Jebel laundromat in exchange for brief recorded interviews.
Past the presentations, Council resolved to commit to six homes per year as its baseline for increasing affordable housing stock in order to receive grant funding from Proposition 123. Council also unanimously approved two ordinances, first to grant reviews for construction of a single-family home on Homestead and second to grant an extension of rights to build an automated car wash at Basalt Business Center.
Lastly, Council approved a second reading for an ordinance vacating a water line easement on Swinging Bridge Lane.