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Published: Saturday, 10/9/2010

Yes on TARTA tax

ISSUE 7 on next month's local ballot asks voters in the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's service area whether they want to renew a 1-mill property tax to maintain — and improve — public transportation in Lucas and Wood counties. The Blade strongly recommends a YES vote.

TARTA serves transit passengers in Toledo, Sylvania (city and township), Maumee, Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, Rossford, Waterville, and Spencer Township. It handles 4.1 million rider trips each year on 24 fixed bus routes.

The transit system operates call-a-ride and paratransit services that help disabled and elderly passengers get around the region safely and reliably. It offers express shuttle service to Mud Hens and Walleye games downtown.

It would be difficult if not impossible to replicate such service with private vehicles; that's why it's called public transportation. TARTA service also reduces traffic congestion, improves air quality, and enhances economic development by enabling workers to get to jobs across the region.

TARTA gets 58 percent of its operating revenue from two 10-year property tax levies that total 2.5 mills. Renewing — not increasing — the smaller levy this year would cost the owner of a typical home in the TARTA service area about $84 a year, says James Gee, the authority's general manager.

The authority has improved service since its last millage renewal in 2007. Paratransit ridership has increased by 50 percent, and call-a-ride use has grown rapidly as well.

TARTA's use of biodiesel fuel is creating jobs and improving the environment in northwest Ohio. The authority's state-of-the-art technology is improving scheduling as well as safety, through the use of computerized camera systems on buses.

Mr. Gee says renewal of the millage will enable TARTA to maintain and build on these improvements. TARTA also plans to replace its current loop system in downtown Toledo with a single transit hub, enhancing both traffic flow and passenger amenities.

TARTA faces the same fiscal difficulties as other local governments — and taxpayers — during the prolonged recession, even as its ridership has grown. Property values have dropped and Toledo Public Schools has curtailed student transportation on TARTA buses. Diesel fuel costs have risen.

Yet by winning employee pay concessions, controlling costs, eliminating little-used routes, and rationalizing service hours, TARTA has kept its base fare at $1 since 2006 — one of the lowest in Ohio. Such efficiency deserves voter support.

Shortsighted elected officials in several suburbs that TARTA serves wasted an attractive opportunity this year, when they rejected the authority's sensible proposal to switch its major source of operating revenue from property taxes to a sales tax.

But wherever the money comes from, the services TARTA provides will grow more important in years to come, especially as the region's population ages. To enable the transit agency to continue to perform its vital mission, vote YES on Issue 7 to renew the TARTA levy.



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