Jake Benjamin, 21, heads to board the 2X Sylvania Express bus at the TARTA bus station on Centennial Rd. in Sylvania, Ohio, Wednesday morning, July 23, 2008. Jake rides the bus to his job at a store on Monroe St. The route is one of 18 that has been proposed for cuts or changes due to budget problems caused by high fuel prices. Summary: Jake Benjamin rides TARTA bus.
The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
Arguing that regional public transportation is vital to the Toledo area's future, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to urge Sylvania Township voters to reject a proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot to opt out of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority.
Public transportation is essential to “a strong economic community,” and with TARTA's potential dismantling, “we're headed back to a system that doesn't work,’’ Pete Gerken, the county board's president, said during discussion before the vote.
TARTA is “a jewel in the crown of our region, which is our transportation system,” agreed Carol Contrada, a Sylvania Township resident and former township trustee. “It is short-sighted to slice off parts of a transportation system that serves everyone.’’
“We really want to encourage Sylvania to think long and hard,” said Commissioner Tina Skeldon-Wozniak, who introduced the resolution. “In order to have a strong community, we need strong public transportation.”
The transit matter was one of two referendum recommendations the county commissioners approved Tuesday morning. The board also endorsed the Toledo Public Schools' 4.9-mill, 10-year operating levy request.
Commissioners said the Toledo school district's funding request is buttressed by its recent restructuring efforts, including consolidating elementary and junior high schools into neighborhood schools housing students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The Toledo school levy would generate $13.3 million annually and would cost the owner of a $100,000 house $150.06 annually. It was endorsed last week by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Toledo, Boys' and Girls' Clubs of Toledo, and the YMCA/JCC of Greater Toledo.
John Jennewine, chairman of the Sylvania Township trustees, questioned how the TARTA issue there concerns the county commissioners, “but if they want to tell people their opinions, it's their right to.”
Mr. Jennewine said his board has taken no formal position on the question but rather has responded to public dissatisfaction in the township with TARTA — particularly its use of full-size transit buses on lightly ridden routes.
“We're letting the residents decide,” he said.
Kevin Haddad, a township trustee who is running for county commissioner, had a dimmer view of the county board's resolutions.
“I think they're a bunch of idiots,” Mr. Haddad said. “The whole county's not in TARTA. ... And why don't they endorse school levies in other communities, besides Toledo?”
County commissioners had said during their meeting that public transportation is an important issue for the whole county, not just the parts of it that now have service.
As a precursor to replacing TARTA's property taxes with a countywide sales tax, the county commissioners voted in 2010 to join the transit authority, but Sylvania Township trustees and Maumee City Council rejected county membership. State law requires all existing members of a transit authority to consent to new memberships.
Mr. Gerken said he was particularly concerned that Sylvania Township has no plan to set up an alternative form of local transit if its voters opt out of TARTA.
“Are people just cast into the wind to fend for themselves?” he asked.
“There are many people that can't afford, or for whatever reason cannot drive, their own vehicle,” Penny Levine, a Sylvania Township resident and occasional candidate for local public office, told the commissioners. “If you call yourself a community, this is one of those aspects that form a community.”
Opt-out resolutions are on the local ballots in both Sylvania Township and Spencer Township, although the transit authority sued the Lucas County Board of Elections last week to object to the Sylvania resolution, which excludes voters in the incorporated portion of the township — Sylvania city — from participating.
The county commissioners took no stand Tuesday concerning the Spencer Township opt-out question. Mr. Gerken said Sylvania Township was on the agenda because of a request from Consumer Advocates for Transportation Rights, an advocacy group for people with disabilities.
“We haven't had that constituent-group request from Spencer yet,” Mr. Gerken said, adding that the board could take up the Spencer question at a future meeting.
Perrysburg voters approved withdrawing from TARTA in March, and transit authority buses stopped running there Sept. 22. Since then, the city has paid a private company to provide rides for people with disabilities and has a levy on the Nov. 6 ballot to fund a local transit operation that, if approved, would start Jan. 1.
Also Tuesday, the commissioners passed a resolution recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Family and Child Abuse Prevention Center's court advocacy program and proclaiming this to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Lucas County.
Domestic violence “is the leading cause of injury to women, even more than car accidents,” Diana Laubenthal, the center's domestic-violence program supervisor, told the board. But the legal system, she said, is “very confusing, very intimidating” for domestic violence victims.
“Today, we want to thank you, but we want to continually make citizens aware of what the warning signs are,” Mrs. Wozniak said to introduce Ms. Laubenthal to her colleagues.
Contact David Patch at: email@example.com or 419-724-6094.