UPDATE: Gardner TARTA amendment passes HouseWritten by Zach Davis | | email@example.com
The Ohio House passed an amendment on May 5 that TARTA officials describe as “disastrous” to its future.
Gardner, at the request of the Perrysburg City Council, has submitted an amendment creating a limited window during which time a subdivision is able to withdraw as a member of a regional transit authority.
Previously, when one of the nine subdivisions wished to withdraw from the services of the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA), the move had to be approved by the other eight, who would have to cover the financial burden of those leaving. Gardner’s amendment, however, would allow for any subdivision to opt out of its membership without the move being approved by any others.
Gardner said Rossford also shares Perrysburg’s desire to opt out and that TARTA essentially acts as a never-ending tax.
“Fundamentally I believe it is fair to allow communities from time to time to evaluate their tax levels and whether they believe they are getting good service from the government,” Gardner said. “In this case, the people from Wood and Lucas counties have contacted me over the years and expressed an interest in at least allowing a vote of the people to decide whether they want to remain part of the TARTA system, which current law is essentially a forever tax and forever contract with very little accountability. This is an effort to give communities the freedom to choose and to seek improved transportation services.”
TARTA General Manager James K. Gee opposed Gardner’s plan May 2 in front of the Ohio House of Representatives Finance and Appropriations Committee, calling the amendment a “terrible precedent” and “unfair to TARTA’s eight other member communities.”
“We have worked with Perrysburg to avoid this legislation, which I firmly believe will be disastrous to TARTA, and potentially to other transit authorities and similar regional entities, such as water and solid waste authorities,” Gee said. “I have met with Representative Gardner on this issue and understand his position that this legislation is a ‘voters’ rights’ issue and not an anti-transit bill. I understand his position, but I definitely do not agree with it.”
Gardner stressed that if a subdivision was to opt-out of TARTA, it would not mean that public transportation would cease to exist in that region. Instead, they would search for better and more cost-effective alternatives.
“This isn’t a question of whether people will have transportation services, this is a question of who will provide the service and at what cost,” Gardner said. “Perrysburg has openly said that it supports public transportation and will continue public transportation services. What Perrysburg seeks is improved transportation for the elderly, disabled and those who need public transportation. They would like the opportunity to have more cost-effective public transportation that can reduce property taxes yet improve transportation services and I believe they should be given the freedom to try.”
Gee, however, said he does not believe that simply finding another source for public transportation is as easy as it sounds.
“There are more factors,” Gee said. “If they were able to opt out they could find somebody else to do it and that may work well for service just in their community, but what we bring is connections between communities. If a person lives in Toledo, will the Perrysburg service come to their house to pick them up and carry them to Perrysburg? How would they make those connections between communities?”
While Gee has been resistant to the amendment, Gardner claimed that Gee endorsed the exit of Perrysburg and Rossford from the program in 2010 on the condition of a sales tax paid by both communities to TARTA.
“When some people express concern about transportation services about the elderly, disabled and those trying to get to their job site, my response to that concern is ‘Are you kidding?’” Gardner said. “Because [TARTA] already said that it’s OK to withdraw as long as we get more money. It seems to be that it’s not about the service, it’s about the money.”
“It’s not about the money at all,” Gee said. “It’s about the impact to our community and the social impact as much as anything.”
If a subdivision withdraws as a member of TARTA, it will lose Call-A-Ride as well as the TARPS service, one of the top-five fastest growing paratransit services in the country.
“In my opinion, this amendment is a bad proposal cloaked in the mantle of voters’ rights,” Gee said. “I urge members of this committee to reject this disastrous proposal now, before it has the opportunity to harm Ohioans.”
“This is about giving communities the right to choose in improving transportation services,” Gardner said. “Obviously I have a concern about those who need public transportation, that is just not what this is about.”