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The citizens group that wants voters to decide whether Rossford should stay in the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority appears to have collected enough signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, and Mayor Neil Mackinnon said he’ll wage a campaign to keep the city in TARTA.
The petition circulated by the group Citizens Choice collected more than 400 signatures on 12 petitions that it turned in to the city. To put the TARTA question on the ballot, 275 signatures of registered Rossford voters must be validated by the Wood County Board of Elections, but only after the city has held the petitions for public inspection for 10 days, said Debbie Hazard, the elections board’s deputy director.
Mayor MacKinnon said he thinks withdrawing from TARTA would be a big mistake for Rossford, and he plans to make the case for why he believes the city needs public transit and the value TARTA provides.
“I think it’s too important for me to stay quiet,” he said. “Our two largest employers rely on it [TARTA] to get their employees to and from work. This is important for our economic development.”
Rossford Law Director Kevin Heban said the city must forward the petitions to the elections board no later than 4 p.m. Wednesday. He said the last Rossford initiative petition he could recall was circulated about 10 years ago in a bid to overturn a garbage-collection fee council had approved. The issue never qualified for the ballot.
Bob Densic, the Citizens Choice secretary, said the group’s goal was limited to getting the TARTA issue on the ballot. He said he’s confident there are more than enough signatures for that. “Once the word got out, this was not a challenge,” he said. “I probably hit 200 to 250 households and had maybe four people say no.”
While Citizens Choice takes no position on staying in TARTA, he said it was possible individual members could form splinter groups. Some Citizens Choice members are opposed to TARTA, some want to remain in the transit authority, and some want to negotiate new terms for bus service.
Council voted at its June 24 meeting to keep Rossford in TARTA, making its decision after months of study. The two members who dissented — Jerry Staczek and Chuck Duricek — did so on the grounds that the matter should be put to the voters.
Council’s TARTA committee found that the city’s net cost for TARTA service was a little more than $200,000 per year, and a contract with a private provider would cost twice that in the first year alone. TARTA service is funded by a 2.25-mill levy. The city’s outside public transit consultant told council Rossford was getting TARTA service at below cost.
Mr. MacKinnon said TARTA was a bargain. “If someone was offering this deal to us today, I think we’d be trying to get in TARTA rather than trying to get out. At a time when there's not a lot of money available and the grant process is so competitive, we get extra points when we apply for grants for roads and public transportation because we’re in TARTA. To me, this is a no-brainer.”