Backers kick off campaign to pass TARTA sales tax

·4 min read

Sep. 21—With its members' livelihoods heavily reliant on the public's use of automobiles for personal transportation, an autoworkers' union hall might be counterintuitive as the venue to kick off a referendum campaign for a half cent public transit sales tax.

But Bruce Baumhower, United Auto Workers Local 12's longtime president, said during a news conference Tuesday morning that after Sunday bus service fell victim in January, 2019, to a Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority budget cut, certain UAW members started getting fired because they couldn't get to work on Sunday.

Restoring Sunday service would be one of the initial results of passing the new sales tax, along with expanding Toledo Area Regional Paratransit Service eligibility throughout Lucas County, said Kelsie Hoagland, chairman of the TARTA board of trustees.

And planning is under way to determine how bus service for the general public beyond TARPS riders will be expanded to cover the entire county, Ms. Hoagland said. Property taxes TARTA now collects in six Lucas County jurisdictions plus Rossford will be eliminated if the sales tax passes Nov. 2.

"This is the most important issue on the ballot this fall, and I'm on the ballot this fall," Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said, eliciting laughter. "...This is what successful and dynamic cities must have. Issue 12 will grow our economy."

TARTA now operates in Toledo, Ottawa Hills, Sylvania, Sylvania Township, Maumee, Waterville, and Rossford, and collects two property levies in that area that total 2.5 mills and yield about $13 million in combined annual revenue.

The sales tax, if approved by Lucas County and Rossford voters, would be collected throughout the county and in Rossford and is projected to generate about $30 million in annual revenue, which the transit authority has said will, among other things, support expanded coverage and service hours, provide local matching funds to replace the aging TARTA bus fleet, and provide funds for "transit-related" street and sidewalk improvements to Lucas County and its municipalities.

Among Lucas County areas the current service area misses is the commercial district of Oregon, including Mercy Health St. Charles Hospital, the Spring Meadows shopping area of Springfield Township and Holland, and several of the county's most popular parks including Maumee Bay State Park.

Public transit "is not just for Toledo, it's for the entire region" Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough said during the news conference.

Expanded transportation access will attract economic development that will result not just in jobs but also more tax revenue to support local infrastructure and schools, he said.

Mr. Baumhower, meanwhile, was one of several speakers remarking that service to Lucas County's outlying rural areas — source of the most vocal sales-tax opposition — will help seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities whose mobility options are limited if they can't drive themselves.

Veterans in rural areas, Mr. Baumhower specifically noted, often need rides to get medical care in the city.

Cerssandra McPherson, one of two Toledo city councilmen to speak and a special-education paraprofessional, said public transit is so vital to her students' success that the curriculum includes teaching them how to navigate TARTA.

Colleague Sam Melden emphasized transit's role in making Toledo a "disability-friendly" community, saying that plentiful housing and other opportunities all depend on transportation to connect them.

And Jessica Weinberg, speaking on behalf of Community Advocates for Transportation Rights, said not all people who have disabilities limiting their ability to drive a car use wheelchairs, so their dependence on public transit to get to jobs or social services may not be obvious. Expanded transit "will make more jobs available to more people" while giving businesses in the enlarged transit district access to potential customers who may not be able to get to them now.

Mr. Baumhower noted Toledo's per-capita public funding for transit severely lags other major Ohio cities because those other cities use sales taxes rather than property taxes for their local subsidy.

With a sales tax, he said, "everybody's in it — not just homeowners." And that includes visitors, such as the crowds who came to Toledo recently for Jeep Fest and the Solheim Cup golf tournament.

"It is a basic service, and it's there when you need it," said Carly Allen, who at the news conference represented the Neighbors United for Transportation Independence political action committee but also is president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 697, which represents TARTA drivers and mechanics.

Public transportation in outlying areas, Ms. Allen said, "allows people to age in place" rather than have to leave their homes when they can no longer drive. In those areas, she said, the Call-a-Ride model is sure to be used unless somebody builds a big factory.

First Published September 21, 2021, 1:38pm

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