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Published: Thursday, 6/3/2010

TARTA asks area to back sales tax

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority's top executive yesterday asked agency member communities not to abandon a proposed agency reorganization that would include a half-cent sales tax throughout Lucas County while he strives to persuade Sylvania Township trustees to reverse their negative vote Tuesday that would otherwise block the plan.

"TARTA is not giving up and will work until time expires to communicate to the public and to our member communities as well as to convince the Sylvania Township trustees to reconsider yesterday's opposition vote," James Gee, the transit authority's general manager, wrote in a letter to community leaders in the transit district.

And Kevin Haddad, one of the two township trustees who voted against the proposal Tuesday, said yesterday he'd be open to reconsidering his vote - but only if TARTA came back with significantly different service concepts and a smaller tax percentage.

"The reason I voted no was to give them time to go back to the box," he said yesterday. "TARTA is just wanting more money and not showing us a better service model." But John Jennewine, the other half of the 2-1 trustee majority Tuesday night, said he doubted the transit authority would be able to make the changes he wants to see in time get the sales-tax proposal on the Nov. 2 ballot, for which the filing deadline is Aug. 5.

As recommended in a study a transit authority consultant prepared last year, TARTA proposed replacing the 2.5 mills of property taxes it collects in its nine member communities with a sales tax to be collected in all of Lucas County plus any communities outside the county that are part of the agency.

TARTA would expand to provide service throughout the county, mostly using the Call-A-Ride model it has used in suburban communities rather than fixed-route buses. It now collects property taxes and provides service in Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Spencer Township, Waterville, Maumee, Perrysburg, and Rossford.

Mr. Gee has said those who now pay the levy would pay less in sales tax even though TARTA expects to get more revenue from the change, because the sales tax would be collected from everyone who shops in the transit district, including those who don't own real estate and visitors. TARTA is the last transit agency in Ohio to rely on a property tax for its local subsidy; when formed in 1971, that was the only funding source allowed under state law.

Mr. Jennewine said he is in favor of replacing the property taxes with a sales tax but is not willing to support a 10-year commitment to the transit authority unless it changes how it operates.

He and Mr. Haddad have been critical of the size of buses TARTA operates on its Sylvania Township routes, saying that running traditional transit buses are a waste when there is only a handful of riders on each trip.

Mr. Gee has responded that the bus sizes are determined by the peak ridership on any part of the schedule of trips that a driver makes throughout the workday. He also said that once all costs are factored in, there is little difference between operating a full-sized bus and a minibus: each costs about $45 per hour to run.

"The small buses are cheaper to purchase and get better fuel mileage, but the big buses last longer and have better maintenance costs," Mr. Gee said.

The transit chief has said, however, that cutting the sales-tax proposal from a half-percent to a quarter-percent, as Mr. Haddad suggested, is unworkable because it would yield less revenue than TARTA now gets from the property tax.

The transit authority now brings in about $17 million from its two levies, while a half-cent sales tax is forecast to yield about $25.6 million.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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