A Sylvania councilman said he favors voters' rights, just not when it comes to membership in the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
Councilman Keith Haddad told The Blade yesterday he is against a proposal to change state law so that a community could unilaterally end its membership in a regional transit authority with a majority vote of its residents.
Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) called a meeting yesterday in Perrysburg of the nine communities that are members of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) to get their input about such a change. Currently, a community can only drop out by gaining the consent of all transit authority members.
"I would have to say right now that individual municipalities should not have that right, because I think it would hurt TARTA as a whole," Mr. Haddad said in an interview after the meeting
"If you get enough municipalities to opt out you may lose TARTA completely, and lose the only mass transit we have."
Mr. Haddad was among representatives from seven of TARTA's nine member communities present at the meeting. The others were Toledo, Perrysburg, Waterville, Sylvania Township, Rossford, and Spencer Township. No one was present to speak for Maumee or Ottawa Hills.
Mr. Gardner is considering introducing legislation to change the current law at the request of Perrysburg, where officials and residents have complained that the city is not getting service worth the roughly $1 million a year in tax dollars it provides to TARTA. The transit agency has offered to conduct a promotional campaign to make Perrysburg residents more aware of its service, but contends total city ridership has increased since August.
State Rep. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills), who joined Mr. Gardner at the meeting, said he believes citizens should have the fundamental right to examine services versus cost. He said he has not formed an opinion on the proposal to change state law governing transit authority membership.
Senator Gardner did his best impression of Eagles lead singer Don Henley when he compared the current law to the band's hit tune, "Hotel California."
"You can check out any time you'd like, but you can never leave," Mr. Gardner said.
Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans, who was one of many city officials at the meeting, said it was inherently unfair to all citizens - not just those in Perrysburg - to be unable to vote themselves out of such agreements.
Larry Oberdorf, president of Rossford City Council, agreed that it was "unconscionable to be locked into an agreement in which you have to have the unanimous vote of the [other member] communities to exit."
Dee Dee Liedel, who chairs the Sylvania Township Board of Trustees, said the opportunity to be freed from paying taxes to TARTA could help her community solve other financial problems, such as the budget crunch involving its fire department.
"I've had people come to me and say, 'We would pass a fire levy if we could get rid of another levy,'•" Ms. Liedel said. "There's nothing else we can get rid of."
Bob Klumm, a Spencer Township trustee, said that if TARTA knew a community could legally opt out of membership, the authority might be more receptive to requests for improved service.
Bill Franklin, the director of public service in Toledo, told those in attendance that he recognized both the importance of voters' rights and the need for regional public transportation.
"I don't think this is a region you'd want to be in without public transportation," he said.
Mr. Haddad said during the meeting that, given energy conservation concerns all across the country, communities in northwest Ohio should be working with the area's transit authority to improve services rather than looking for a way out.
Rob Greenlese, a Waterville resident who said he was sent by Waterville Mayor Charles Peyton to represent the community, echoed the Sylvania councilman's concerns about energy conservation and challenged Mr. Gardner to look at legislation that would alter the way mass transit is funded in Ohio.
Mr. Gardner replied that energy conservation was a concern of his and added that alternative funding for mass transit may be a discussion that comes up during the legislative process.
The senator also reiterated his position that TARTA membership is fundamentally a voters' rights issue. He said he hoped to introduce legislation to change the current law in the next two to three weeks.
TARTA General Manager Jim Gee met with Mr. Gardner and Mr. Wagoner privately yesterday over what was discussed at the Perrysburg meeting.
In a phone interview later with The Blade, Mr. Gee said that TARTA was supportive of voters' rights and would be watching closely as the legislative process unfolds.
He reported that ridership in Perrysburg has increased by 35 percent on fixed-line service routes since the end of August, largely because of two new routes serving Levis Business Park, home to Owens-Illinois Inc.'s world headquarters, and the Levis Commons shopping and residential complex.
Mr. Gee also said TARTA's demand-response service program, known as Call-A-Ride, has experienced a 9 percent increase in ridership during the same period.
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