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Published: Tuesday, 4/21/2009

TARTA offers plan on service, tax dollars

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lee Graham showed up for the TARTA meeting in Perrysburg last week in the same way he travels just about everywhere: on a TARTA minibus.

"I'm legally blind, but I get around," the 87-year-old said after taking a seat in Perrysburg City Council chambers.

He was among about a dozen people who showed up for a presentation by TARTA General Manager James Gee about the transit agency's plans for improving service and potentially changing the way it receives tax dollars.

A recently completed Comprehensive Operations Analysis recommended that TARTA replace the 2.5-mill property tax that member communities currently pay with a 0.5 percent sales tax for all of Lucas County and the Wood County cities of Perrysburg and Rossford.

While Mr. Gee said the public, especially the elderly, prefer sales taxes over property taxes, Perrysburg officials said changing the way its residents pay the tab for TARTA wouldn't change the quandry their residents are in now.

"It continues to trap us in a system that we really don't want to be part of," said Councilman Joe Rutherford.

"The big issue is we're in this situation with no exit clause. We're in a property tax situation foisted upon us by a vote in Lucas County," Mr. Rutherford said. "... Why would we vote for a sales tax increase without [an exit clause]? Once it's enacted, how it is ever rescinded?"

Mr. Gee said the sales tax could be imposed for five years, 10 years, or permanently, although no recommendation has been made on what TARTA might seek.

In November 2007, a majority of Perrysburg voters opposed the last TARTA levy replacement, but the issue found majority support from voters in Toledo, Sylvania, and Ottawa Hills, meaning all the member communities still must pay the tax.

Late last year, Perrysburg City Council voted to ask to withdraw from TARTA, saying the service is underused and does not justify the more than $1.3 million city residents pay in taxes each year to support it.

City councils or township trustees in each of the member communities would have to agree to seek the sales tax to fund TARTA, but both Mr. Rutherford and Councilwoman Maria Ermie said they could not support that.

"I could not vote as a member of council to go to a sales tax when it doesn't sound like there's any out for us," Ms. Ermie said. "It's still taxation without representation."

Mr. Gee said changes proposed for TARTA operations would improve service in Perrysburg because it would allow users of the Call-A-Ride service to pre-schedule trips and to travel to Rossford and Lucas County without having to transfer to another bus.

Perrysburg Mayor Nelson Evans said he liked the proposed changes in service, though he was uneasy about the change to a sales tax.

While Wood County has a single sales tax rate now, adding a 0.5 percent for TARTA would make Perrysburg's and Rossford's rate higher than the rest of the county.

"If Perrysburg is a half [per]cent higher than Perrysburg Township, business will go out to the township," he said.

Mr. Graham told officials that because he is legally blind, he cannot drive and therefore cannot get to doctor's appointments, the senior center, and the grocery store without TARTA. He said the city has not told the public what kind of public transportation would be made available if Perrysburg parts ways with TARTA, and that concerns him.

Mayor Evans said the city has been hesitant to spend money developing plans for its own transit system when it doesn't know if it can break from TARTA.

"I know our senior citizens are scared to death," he said. " They need public transporation. I know they do. That's why we've said from the get-go, we are not going to leave the seniors of our town high and dry."

Mr. Rutherford said after the meeting that the city may hold informational meetings this summer where private transportation companies could explain their services and answer residents' questions.

"If we could get out of TARTA we would be proposing some kind of Call-A-Ride or TARPS service specifically to meet the needs of Perrysburg residents," he said.

Mr. Rutherford said the city would most likely contract with a private provider rather than create a new agency to provide local transit service.

"We have no desire to expand the size of Perrysburg's government," he said.



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