Perrysburg's Sandra Alden, who relies on TARTA to get to work, hangs a sign before a rally at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons in support of continued service.
Riding the bus is so important for the 30 housekeepers and other hotel employees that Hilton Garden Inn General Manager Izzet Sozeri sets some of their work schedules based upon the bus times.
If the bus line disappeared, so too would his employees' ability to get to work at Levis Commons, said Mr. Sozeri, who is against a ballot referendum that would allow Perrysburg to leave the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
"It is an essential service," Mr. Sozeri said. "Believe me, [the bus] stops in the area, not for just my business but for other businesses in the area -- restaurants, and bars, and even retail stores."
But Perrysburg Councilman J. Todd Grayson argued that the city overpays for public transportation that doesn't fit Perrysburg's needs. Instead, the city needs to pull out from TARTA and develop its own transit system, he said.
"There's a lot of misunderstandings," said Mr. Grayson, one of the most vocal council members on the TARTA issue. "This is not about taking away transportation."
Perrysburg voters will decide Tuesday whether to leave TARTA, which serves nine communities. A yes vote would make Perrysburg the first member community to withdraw.
The city currently pays about $1.5 million in property taxes to TARTA annually.
The sight of TARTA buses on Perrysburg streets would become a thing of the past if residents there vote Tuesday to sever ties with the transit agency. The city pays about $1.5 million in property taxes annually to TARTA.
Perrysburg, a TARTA member since 1974, has the ability to put the issue on the ballot from a provision in the state's budget law.
The amendment set a Nov. 5, 2013, deadline for communities to put opt-out referendums on the ballot.
Rossford and Sylvania Township officials are also considering whether to leave TARTA but have not put the issue on the ballot. The other TARTA members include Toledo, Sylvania, Ottawa Hills, Maumee, Spencer Township, and Waterville.
Tuesday's election could bring uncertainty to the future of public transportation in Perrysburg.
If Perrysburg voters decide to opt out, TARTA officials said they will stop service to Perrysburg within six months, which is allowed by state law.
State Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) has vowed he would fight with legislative action to force TARTA to continue services, arguing the city already paid $375,000 for the rest of 2012.
The possible three-month gap in service is a concern for faithful TARTA riders, who said they feared they would lose their ability to get to work or be independent.
With the help of a recently hired consultant, the city is in the early stages of developing another property tax-funded plan to replace TARTA in 2013, if the opt-out referendum passes.
The proposed new system would likely run more like TARTA's Call-A-Ride or TARPS, a service for people who are disabled or elderly, instead of a fixed bus route, officials have said.
Mr. Grayson said the new system could cost about $800,000, and the goal is for the service to reach places outside Perrysburg city limits, such as the Walgreens Distribution Center or big-box retailers in Perrysburg Township or Rossford.
But a new system also would require voter approval. Transit supporters have worried such a measure might not pass and, as a result, public transit would disappear completely in Perrysburg.
Mr. Grayson said he believes an alternative plan would pass if the council puts the issue on the November ballot. "Where we've shown value, we've gotten community support historically," he said, referring to past elections, such as the Way Public Library levy. "Perrysburg has consistently proven they are willing to spend money where it makes a difference in the community."
Contact Gabrielle Russon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6026.
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