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Published: Monday, 8/19/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Late petitions could prevent TARTA vote in Rossford

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rossford Mayor Neil MacKinnon has campaigned to keep in TARTA in Rossford. Rossford Mayor Neil MacKinnon has campaigned to keep in TARTA in Rossford.
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The question of whether Rossford should stay in TARTA may or may not be on the November ballot. It’s up in the air, awaiting an opinion by the Wood County Prosecutor’s Office on a matter of Ohio election law. The opinion is expected to come this week, the prosecutor’s office said.

The ad hoc group Citizens for Choice collected 392 signatures on a petition seeking to put the issue on the Nov. 5 ballot and submitted them to the city July 26.

As required by state law, Rossford officials held the signatures for 10 days for public inspection, then forwarded them to the Wood County Board of Elections on Aug. 6 for certification.

The elections board deemed 340 of the signatures to be valid, a number well in excess of the required 275, and returned the petitions to the city to be examined before they were to be returned to the board.

The uncertainty stems from the fact that state law imposed an Aug. 7 deadline for the petitions to be returned to the board, a condition that was not met. The board did not return the petitions to the city until Aug. 12, and Rossford delivered them back to the board the next day.

“We’re following the law, and we acted in a timely fashion,” Rossford Administrator Ed Ciecka said.

Rossford Law Director Kevin Heban concurred. He said he monitored the process closely “to make sure we made all of our deadlines, and we did.”

Terry Burton, the elections board director, confirmed that his office did receive the certified signatures from the city and instructions to place the issue on the next available general election ballot, and “we forwarded them to the prosecutor’s office requesting an opinion on which election that would be.”

If the issue doesn’t qualify for the November ballot, it could appear on the November ballot next year, he said.

If it did appear on next year’s ballot, however, the vote would be purely symbolic. That’s because the special state legislation permitting members of TARTA to exit the transit authority without the unanimous permission of other member communities sets an end-of-the-year deadline for deciding.

State Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), who shepherded the legislation through the General Assembly, said there were no plans to extend it. Perrysburg has been the only community to withdraw.

Sylvania and Spencer townships rejected referendums last year.

Bob Densic, the Citizens Choice secretary, said his group isn’t throwing in the towel. The relevant elections law, he believed, “is subject to interpretation. We’re sitting and waiting for a legal review. We can ask a court to intervene, but none of us want to do that.”

After months of study and deliberation, Rossford City Council voted on June 24 to stay in TARTA. The vote was 5-2, with members Jerry Staczek and Chuck Duricek dissenting on the grounds that staying in TARTA or withdrawing should be put to the voters.

Rossford property-tax payers send TARTA $305,000 annually through a 2.25-mill levy; the city treasury recoups $95,000 of this per year through the tax increment financing district established in the Crossroads, which would be lost if the city adopted a private service, as Perrysburg did.

The city’s outside transit consultant found that Rossford was getting its TARTA service at below cost.

Mayor Neil Mackinnon, a vocal supporter of TARTA service in Rossford, said the city is not to blame if the TARTA question does not get on the ballot this year. “Rossford followed the legal process to the letter. My instructions were to do everything by the book. This has been a polarizing issue to a few people, but it hasn’t split the community. That’s the feedback I get.”

Contact Carl Ryan at: carlryan@theblade.com or 419-724-6095.



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