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Published: 7/8/2010

TARTA's board mulls next move on funding

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority Board of Trustees had moved its August meeting up by a week, to July 29, in hopes that it would act on a resolution to place a half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 2 ballot in an expanded transit district that would include all of Lucas County as well as Perrysburg and Rossford in Wood County.

But with Maumee City Council voting Tuesday night against drafting legislation to endorse the sales-tax plan, thus joining Sylvania Township in opposing the idea, discussion at the transit trustees' meeting is likely to focus on whether one of two property levies the agency collects should be put on the ballot for renewal or replacement before its Dec. 31 expiration, General Manager James Gee said Wednesday.

"We could put it on this year, or next," he said, explaining that because taxes assessed this year won't be collected until next year, action isn't necessary until next year, as a property-tax vote taken at any time during next year would apply retroactively to the whole year.

Mr. Gee had hoped to persuade Sylvania Township trustees to reconsider their June 1 vote opposing the sales tax, which he said is a more equitable way of subsidizing public transit and would have boosted TARTA's revenue by $8.4 million to pay for expanded service.

But after the Maumee council vote, Mr. Gee effectively conceded defeat, saying it was "very likely TARTA will not try a sales tax proposal this year."

Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Spencer Township, Sylvania, and Perrysburg all passed resolutions allowing Lucas County to join the transit agency, a procedural step required before a countywide tax could be placed on the ballot, and the Lucas County commissioners had fulfilled their part by requesting TARTA membership.

Under state law, all of TARTA's existing members must approve the idea. The councils in Waterville and Rossford have yet to act.

"It's very difficult for folks to think about changes in the tax structure in such a tough economy," Mr. Gee said. "We need more time to get the 10 resolutions passed."

What the transit authority does with its property taxes, he said, is up to the trustees.

TARTA collects about $17.2 million a year from its two property levies: the 1-mill tax that generates about $7 million plus a 1.5-mill tax that district voters replaced three years ago, albeit with six of nine TARTA members' voting majorities opposing it.

James Bohn, the trustees' chairman, said he will recommend renewing the 1-mill levy rather than replacing it, because of the weak local economy and prevailing anti-tax sentiment. Renewal would maintain the tax at its assessed values from 2000, while replacement would update those values to the current year.

In opposing the sales tax, Maumee officials cited worry about potentially losing $1 million in revenue to the city over 10 years from the Fallen Timbers Tax Increment Financing District. Revenue from the TIF district is used to retire bonds issued by the city of Maumee to pay for infrastructure installed at the site of the Shops at Fallen Timbers and related capital improvements.

Officials predicted retailers in the city would lose business to merchants in neighboring Wood County, particularly since Perrysburg was expected to withdraw from TARTA as soon as the agency's reorganization took effect.

Staff writer Janet Romaker contributed to this report.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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