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Published: Wednesday, 6/17/2009

Doubt shadows TARTA plan

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

One of DeeDee Liedel s biggest doubts about changing the way the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority is funded locally was that a continuing sales tax might insulate the bus agency from public pressure at the ballot box.

The need to renew the property taxes every 10 years creates some sort of accountability to the public you serve, the Sylvania Township trustee told James Gee, TARTA s general manager, during a transit authority presentation to her board and township residents last week.

Mr. Gee s response that a sales tax also could be approved for just a period of years, rather than in perpetuity, satisfied Mrs. Liedel s concern at least in that regard.

I don t want to switch to a sales tax and have no accountability, she said after the 90-minute meeting in the township hall.

But the transit authority still has some work to do, Mrs. Liedel said, to persuade township residents that they will get the same sort of value from the transit tax as they do from dollars they pay for other services, like the local recreation agency, the township fire department, the Toledo Zoo, or the county library system.

Sylvania Township is the latest in a series of presentations Mr. Gee and his senior staff have made across the Toledo area to explain the recommendations in an agency consultant s recent Comprehensive Operations Analysis.

High on the list was replacing the two property levies, totalling 2.5 mills, that TARTA now collects in its nine-community service area with a sales tax that would be collected throughout Lucas County, plus Rossford and Perrysburg, allowing bus service to be provided across the entire county.

TARTA operates in Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Spencer Township, Maumee, Waterville, Perrysburg, and Rossford. That means there are no buses to oft-requested destinations like the Spring Meadows commercial district in Springfield Township or in Oregon.

The transit taxes cost the owner of a $100,000 house about $82 per year, Mr. Gee said.

TARTA is proposing a half-cent sales tax, which would increase the total sales tax in Lucas County from 6.75 percent to 7.25 percent.

TARTA is the last major transit authority in Ohio to rely on a property tax for its local subsidy. When the transit authority was created in 1970, property tax was the only mechanism allowed by state law.

Changing its tax will require consent from TARTA s members, however, and the city council in one of them, Perrysburg, has passed a resolution opposing the change.

The trustees in Monclova Township, which has no bus service, have passed a similar resolution.

A sales tax would have a broader base, the transit manager told the Sylvania Township trustees, since nonhomeowners in the transit district also would pay it, as would shoppers visiting from elsewhere. Also, he said, a sales tax is more controllable for consumers, since it doesn t apply to essentials like food, medicine, and gasoline.

To pay more in transit taxes than his or her property-tax bill, the $100,000 house owner would have to spend more than $16,000 annually on sales-taxable goods, Mr. Gee said.

If you re buying a car, you re going to pay more. If you re buying a boat, you re going to pay more, he said. But those are things people generally don t buy every year.

That answer wasn t satisfactory to Dan Zimmerman, a township resident and co-owner of Zimmerman Heating, who worries that a higher sales tax would cost him business.

I think we need a lot more information than we received tonight about how the tax change would affect taxpayers, he said.

And when Mr. Gee responded to a question from Pam Hanley, the trustees president, about fares by acknowledging that TARTA s $1 base fare is tied for lowest in Ohio, Mrs. Hanley suggested the transit authority consider the farebox for future revenue development too.

The fare seems like an awful lot of bang for your buck, Mrs. Hanley said. A lot of folks might feel a little differently [about paying transit taxes] if the ones using that service contributed a little bit more.

Audience member Jay Leeming, the associate director of workforce development for Goodwill Industries in Toledo, responded that keeping fares low is an important accessibility element for people who depend on transit.

Fixed-income individuals are major public transportation patrons, and when you raise fares, you make it difficult for them to get where they need to go, he said.



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