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Published: Monday, 11/26/2007

Session on TARTA measure is set


With recent levy results reinforcing his belief that TARTA service in the suburbs is inadequate, state Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) has called a meeting this week in Perrysburg to discuss the future of his bill that would change state law restricting transit authority members' ability to withdraw.

"I think a majority of legislators would agree with me that the current law is unfair and does not encourage accountability," Mr. Gardner said. But outside of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's nine-community district, the issue simply isn't pressing enough to garner most state lawmakers' attentions, he said.

Most transit authorities in Ohio are funded with sales taxes, not property levies like TARTA's, Mr. Gardner said, "service issues are not as pronounced" - or at least not as prominently discussed - elsewhere as they have been in Perrysburg, whose agitation for an option to leave the local transit system inspired the so-called "Regional Transit Voters' Rights" bill.

During the meeting Wednesday, Mr. Gardner hopes to discuss "potential compromise legislative language" that might improve the bill's chance for passage. He has asked all political subdivisions within the TARTA service areas to send at least one representative to the meeting, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. in the Perrysburg Municipal Building.

State law requires all members of a regional transit agency to approve the addition or deletion of any member. While TARTA has added several communities to its service area since its 1970 formation, the one community that attempted to leave - Spencer Township during the 1990s - was rebuffed.

Mr. Gardner likened that arrangement to the "Hotel California" described by the rock band The Eagles: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." And that, he said, is "flat-out unacceptable."

While voters in the nine-com-munity transit district spanning parts of Lucas and Wood counties overall approved a 1.5-mill levy replacement on Nov. 6, the measure passed on the strength of favorable votes in Toledo, Ottawa Hills, and Sylvania.

Majorities of voters in the six other communities voted against the levy, which as a replacement will increase net transit taxes in the district by about one third.

In Perrysburg, where the levy replacement is expected to boost TARTA's revenue from $1 million to $1.5 million, local officials increasingly have questioned the value of service their community gets in return for its taxes. Except for a daily commuter express to Toledo, the buses on Perrysburg routes rarely have more than a few riders.

According to official Wood County results, Perrysburg voters rejected the TARTA levy replacement on Nov. 6 by a 2,834 to 1,610 count - a 63.8 percent rejection that was second, on a percentage basis, to only Spencer Township's 70 percent negative vote.

The other communities with dissenting majorities were Sylvania Township, Maumee, Waterville, and Rossford.

Twice during the 1990s, Spencer's township trustees passed resolutions requesting withdrawals from TARTA, but in both cases the requests flopped when other transit authority members refused to go along.

James Gee, TARTA's general manager, said he'd "certainly be willing to listen to Mr. Gardner and take a look at how state law is formulated," but is "not sure" what might constitute an appropriate change to the statutes governing transit authority membership.

As written, he said, the law is "intentionally tough" because of the potential harm that transit authorities could suffer from at-will membership withdrawals.

Contact David Patch at dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.

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