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Published: Monday, 4/21/2014

WOOD COUNTY RULING

TARTA’s future in Rossford debated

Whether city to stay or leave on Nov. ballot

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The question of whether Rossford should remain a member of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is back in play, with an opinion by the Wood County prosecutor stating that the issue should be put on the ballot this year.

The opinion, signed by Assistant Prosecutor Linda Holmes and Prosecuting Attorney Paul Dobson, advises the county’s Board of Elections to put the question on the May 6 or Nov. 4 ballot. Elections officials said they received the advisory too late for the May primary, so the TARTA issue will go to Rossford voters in the November general election.

The opinion also addresses the special state law that enables communities to leave TARTA without the unanimous consent of the other members. That law expired Nov. 5, 2013.

The TARTA issue dates to June, when Rossford City Council, concluding months of study and deliberation, voted to stay in the transit authority after the city’s outside transit consultant found that Rossford was getting TARTA service at below cost.

Rossford property taxpayers send TARTA $305,000 annually through a 2.25-mill levy; the city recoups $95,000 of this per year through the tax-increment finance district established in the Crossroads.

The council vote was 5-2, with members Jerry Staczek and the late Chuck Duricek dissenting on the grounds that voters should decide if Rossford remained in TARTA or left.

Council’s action gave rise to a door-to-door campaign by an ad hoc group called Citizens for Choice, which collected 340 valid signatures — well in excess of the required 275 — on petitions seeking to put the issue on the Nov. 5, 2013, ballot. The group submitted its petitions to Rossford on July 26.

However, legal requirements and time frames for the city and elections board meant the Aug. 7 deadline for final submission of the petitions to the board was missed. The prosecutor’s office advised the board not to put the issue on last November’s ballot, even though the petitions were valid.

Citizens for Choice then asked the prosecutor if the TARTA question could appear on the ballot in 2014. This resultant second opinion states the TARTA question should be put to the electorate in 2014 and argues that a vote this year complies with state law: “Since the petitioners filed their initiative petitions prior to the statutory end date, they have preserved the initiative vote. ... Finally, the Ohio courts have repeatedly held that referendum and initiative petitions should be liberally construed to permit the exercise of the power.”

Don Montague, president of Citizens for Choice, said his group would campaign for Rossford to leave TARTA and would respond to arguments from TARTA supporters such as Mayor Neil MacKinnon.

Mr. MacKinnon said he would urge the community to remain in TARTA. “I think TARTA makes us better,” he said. “I think it makes us a more attractive community. I think TARTA does a great job, and there are people who rely on it.”

Perrysburg and Spencer Township have left TARTA. Sylvania Township voters decided their community should remain a member.

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



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