Transit referendums facing voters in 3 local communities

11/4/2012
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Voters in three suburban communities will consider transit-related referendums that could reshape how public transportation is provided in the Toledo area.

In Sylvania and Spencer townships, trustees have asked voters to consider withdrawing from the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, as provided by a state law enacted last year. If those measures pass on Tuesday, TARTA service would end in either or both of those communities six months after the votes’ certification.

Perrysburg voters, meanwhile, will act on a 1.45-mill, five-year levy to pay for a local transit service that would take the place of TARTA, from which that community withdrew in mid-September after passing an opt-out referendum in March.

READ MORE: The Blade 2012 Voters Guide

City officials already have chosen Ride Right of Lake St. Louis, Mo., to operate the service if the levy passes and have provided interim service using that company since TARTA operations in Perrysburg ceased Sept. 22.

But Sylvania and Spencer townships have no plans in the works to provide replacement service should their voters decide to pull out of the transit authority.

John Jennewine, the Sylvania trustees’ chairman, has said he personally has no issue with TARTA service there but believes township taxpayers deserve a chance to vote on the future — and price — of public transportation in their community.

But Kevin Haddad, a fellow trustee who has been harshly critical of what he considers to be waste and mismanagement at the transit authority, abstained from the township board’s vote because no local service plan had been developed.

State law governing regional transit authorities’ has historically required all members’ consent to the addition of new member communities. While the law is silent on the issue of withdrawals, it has been interpreted to require the same unanimous consent.

Last year, Ohio’s budget law included a provision allowing members of transit authorities funded locally by a property tax to opt out by referendum no later than Nov. 5, 2013 — next year’s Election Day. TARTA is the only major Ohio transit authority still funded by a property tax.

Spencer Township tried several times during the 1990s, under the old provisions, to withdraw from TARTA but was denied by other agency members’ vetoes.

Curtis Lancaster, a township trustee, said township dissatisfaction with the service it gets for the taxes its property owners pay is the issue now, as it was then.

“Half the residents, the bus doesn’t even go by their house,” he said. “We just feel it’s way too much.”

Spencer Township taxpayers’ total TARTA assessment last year was just $87,323, according to the transit authority, while ridership was about 12,000, including about 2,200 trips to, from, or within the township on the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service.

Sylvania Township taxpayers paid about $1.28 million into the TARTA budget, while 96,000 bus trips started and/or ended there, according to agency data. Twenty-four thousand of those trips were on TARPS.

TARTA’s two levies cost the owner of a house valued at $100,000 in either township about $74.39 in annual property tax, according to the Lucas County Auditor’s Office.

Lucas County commissioners have recommended both townships’ voters defeat the withdrawal questions on the grounds that “robust regional transportation” is vital to the area economy and a critical travel option for people with disabilities or limited financial means, while at the same time calling on TARTA to “continue their strong efforts to increase efficiencies, improve their operations, and maximize taxpayer investment.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6096.