The San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation board approved a resolution Thursday that starts the process for Rico potentially joining the authority. (Photo by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

Rico is one step closer to becoming the newest member of the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). The SMART board unanimously approved a resolution to consider an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Dolores County town during its regular meeting Thursday afternoon at Mountain Village Town Hall.

The board also discussed the timeline for Rico joining SMART. A ballot measure proposing a mill levy to fund transportation services will be on the Rico ballot Nov. 5. Town trustees approved the ballot language in August and will consider the IGA at its Wednesday meeting. SMART Executive Director David Averill will be at the meeting to answer any questions, he said. The next step is for SMART to hold a public hearing regarding Rico’s potential inclusion Oct. 10. Averill explained he’s already begun the process of notifying all affected property owners and state agencies, including CDOT, of the public hearing. Current SMART members — San Miguel County, and the towns of Mountain Village and Telluride — must also approve the potential IGA by the end of October before the SMART board considers an IGA amendment during its Nov. 10 meeting — only if the voters approve it first, Averill explained. If the voters and SMART ultimately approve it, Rico will become a member Jan. 1, 2020.

“We’re definitely on a fast track for sure,” he said.

The board also discussed how many seats Rico would have, settling one plus an alternate, given the smaller size of the town.

“It commits us to start this process of including Rico by amending our governing IGA,” Averill said before the board voted on the resolution. “ … I don’t see any disadvantage to this,”

Before the vote, Kris Holstrom, San Miguel County commissioner and SMART board member, added, “We’ve been contemplating it for a while. … They’re in. It’s not up to us.”

Todd Brown, SMART chair and Telluride Council member, explained the process proposed with Rico can serve as a blueprint for any potential future members, citing West End communities as an example.

“Go forth and be successful,” he said after the resolution was approved unanimously.  

“We can only hope,” Rico Town Manager Kari Distefano said. “We’ll see. Rico’s got a lot on their plate this election.”  

The voters will also consider creation of a wastewater treatment plant and centralized sewage in November; a $4 million project that officials have said would be funded by a $1 million state grant and new property tax, if approved. Distefano explained its the first Rico election in over 10 years. Currently, SMART serves Rico via the Southern Route. The only revenue the route collects is from fares ($3 one way or $20 for a 10-trip pass). If Rico joined SMART, the operating cost of a route would be between $45,000 to $50,000 a year, Averill previously said, based on around 2 hours of service a day at the vendor’s — Telluride Express — hourly rate of $75. A $70,000 grant allowed SMART to upgrade from its original 10-person shuttle van that served the route to a 25-person passenger bus. SMART officials have also discussed adding an Ophir and San Bernardo stop to the route, but there have been questions about where exactly to install a safe bus stop.   

By all accounts, Rico residents are taking advantage of the current SMART service.

“Several people mentioned the bus and their excitement in having more passenger capacity,” Brown recalled of a visit to the town during an April SMART meeting. 

Distefano, who has regularly attended SMART meetings since the creation of the authority, previously explained Rico ridership as “very promising.”