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Published: Wednesday, 5/30/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Maumee eyes withdrawing from TARTA

Officials open investigation into opt-out, tax proposals

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
TARTA is looking at switching from a property tax to a sales tax. It is the only Ohio transit authority that still collects a property tax. TARTA is looking at switching from a property tax to a sales tax. It is the only Ohio transit authority that still collects a property tax.
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Add Maumee to the list of Toledo suburbs whose leaders are studying whether they should stay in TARTA or switch to some other form of public transportation.

Maumee City Council's public information committee met for about a half hour Tuesday with two Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority representatives to learn details about how the state's procedure for opting out of the agency works and about the transit authority's latest plan for switching from a property tax to a sales tax as its local subsidy.

But the committee's three members agreed at the meeting's end to get more information about potential transit alternatives available to Maumee before taking any steps toward placing an opt-out measure on the city's ballot.

"I personally don't want to do without public transportation, but we need further investigation as to whether we're getting the best deal for our money," committee chairman Tim Pauken said.

Mr. Pauken said afterward that for starters, he would ask John Jezak, city administrator, to "do some local research" into what neighboring communities, including Perrysburg, Rossford, and Sylvania Township, have come up with in their own research of transit alternatives.

"It's too early to determine if we are going to get a consultant involved," he said.

Ohio's 2011 budget law established a two-year period, ending with the Nov. 5, 2013, general election, during which voters in communities that are members of transit authorities funded by property taxes may hold referenda to opt out of those agencies instead of following a more cumbersome process that requires other member communities' consent.

TARTA is the only Ohio transit authority that still collects a property tax for its local subsidy.

Perrysburg voters approved an opt-out question in a referendum in March and is now debating what type of service to provide in its place and how to pay for it.

Sylvania and Rossford officials have considered putting the matter to voters but so far have held off pending the development of plans for alternative local transit.

Daniel Hazard, a member of the Maumee council committee, said Maumee taxpayers deserve a chance to be heard too. "We have this opportunity for a reason, and we need to do the due diligence necessary to present it to voters," he said. "Public transportation is something that is needed. It's needed in Maumee. But what form it takes, I don't know. Council needs to have a Plan B."

Echoing the sentiments of local leaders in the other communities that have taken up the issue, committee member Brent Buehrer said the light ridership on TARTA buses on their Maumee routes rankles many, though he acknowledged that more seats might be filled as the buses get closer to downtown Toledo.

"Taxpayers should have the opportunity to say 'yea' or 'nay' if they want this service," Mr. Buehrer said, adding later that such a vote should be held at a general election to ensure the best demographic cross-section.

Two years ago, Maumee City Council voted against allowing Lucas County to become a TARTA member, a procedural step that could have led to substituting a half-cent, countywide sales tax for the transit authority's two property levies of a combined 2.5 mills.

The transit authority's board of trustees last month set up an ad-hoc committee to revisit the sales-tax idea, but the committee's chairman reported back May 3 that it would be impractical to get a sales-tax issue onto a ballot this year.

Francis Frey, Maumee's representative on the TARTA board of trustees, explained to the council committee that all existing transit authority members' consent still is needed for Lucas County to join the agency.

The ad-hoc committee, Mr. Frey said, is looking at a quarter-cent tax instead of a half-cent. That would generate less revenue than TARTA's property levies now do, he said, but a sales tax would have faster growth prospects when the regional economy rebounds.

But Mr. Pauken, while remarking that "a sales tax is not necessarily in our best interest," said Maumee needs to resolve its future as a TARTA member before it takes any position on how the agency is funded.

Mr. Frey said that in making their decision, Maumee leaders should not overlook the advantage of being in a regional system -- a mistake he believes Perrysburg already has made.

"It's not just a Maumee thing, it's a regional thing. People's lives don't stop just at the edge of Maumee or the edge of Perrysburg," Mr. Frey said.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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