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Sylvania councilmen wary of TARTA plan

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Nearly every member of Sylvania City Council expressed concerns about a Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority proposal to change its funding from a property tax to a sales tax, and three said they wouldn’t personally vote in favor of the proposal should it make it on the ballot in November.

RELATED: Ottawa Hills, Rossford OK with TARTA sales-tax plan

But for the proposal to go before voters, all seven TARTA member communities must agree to add Lucas County as a TARTA member. Ottawa Hills and Rossford councils have given their OK, but Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Toledo, Maumee, and Waterville have yet to weigh in.

Sylvania council members asked transit authority officials to provide more details on their plan, which would replace a 2.5-mill property tax with a 0.5-percent Lucas County-wide sales tax, which also would be collected in Rossford.

The new sales tax would generate about $30 million annually for the public transit system, more than doubling the roughly $13 million the property tax generates now.

About $10 million of that $30 million would be paid back to TARTA communities to be spent on roads, bridges, sidewalks, and other transportation-related projects.

TARTA Finance Director Stacey Clink told Sylvania council members Wednesday morning that TARTA intends to use its portion of the tax funding to expand its fixed route, Call-A-Ride, and the Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service, or TARPS, which serves riders with disabilities. They’d also invest in new technology, such as on-board Wi-Fi.

“The hope was that when we expanded the service and increased the frequency, not only would we make it more efficient and effective for the people that had no choice but to use TARTA, but also get people who had the choice to either drive their cars or to use TARTA to actually start using TARTA,” she said.

Council members were skeptical. They said the plan lacked vision and questioned the rationale behind TARTA collecting more money than it needs and splitting its extra funds between municipalities that use the transit system.

Doug Haynam, Sandy Husman, and Mark Luetke all said they wouldn’t vote for the proposal as citizens come November, but so far Mr. Haynam is the only one advocating for council to stop the measure from getting on the ballot.

“I think you can only send this to the voters if you’re prepared to endorse it and say you think this is good for Sylvania. I don’t think this is good for Sylvania,” Mr. Haynam said. “I don’t think there’s enough meat on this bone to say what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it.”

Several council members encouraged TARTA General Manager James Gee to consider waiting until next year, when a new law will allow counties and transit authorities to raise taxes in 0.10 percent increments rather than the current 0.25 percent. TARTA could then put a lesser request on the ballot.

“On one hand, I’m in favor of passing legislation on so that voters can have their say on it,” Councilman Jason Mishka said. “On the other hand, I think that part of our job is to make sure that whatever goes to them is of high quality.

“I think a ‘no’ vote against this isn’t necessarily a vote against TARTA or against public transportation,” Mr. Mishka said. “but it would be against the quality of [the proposal] and a message to go back and rework it.”

Sylvania City Council will vote on the matter at its regular council meeting 7:30 p.m. July 17. Maumee City Council also plans to vote on the issue July 17, and Mayor Richard Carr said he believes council members will affirm the proposal so voters can decide how they want to be taxed.

Sylvania Township trustees are set to vote July 18, and Waterville City Council will weigh in July 24. Toledo City Council has yet to add a vote on TARTA’s proposal to a council agenda.

Contact Sarah Elms at: selms@theblade.com or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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