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TARTA expansion plan faces new challenge

Published: Jun. 24, 2021 at 12:55 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - TARTA is working to expand through all of Lucas County and change its funding structure. On Monday, the Lucas County Citizen Levy Review Community unanimously voted to send the measure to voters, but a new roadblock in Columbus may make it more difficult to put the issue on the November ballot.

The state’s transportation budget, passed earlier this year, lifted some of the red tape keeping TARTA from getting its expansion on the ballot. But new legislation seeks to put limits on the newfound freedom.

“I actually had to purchase an accessible vehicle to access the community and for a lot of people with disabilities, that receive public benefits, that’s just not a realistic avenue for them,” says Nathan Turner.

Turner has cerebral palsy and needs a wheelchair to get around. But he can only get so far. He lives in Springfield Township, where TARTA doesn’t go.

“For people with disabilities, public transportation is not a luxury or an add-on. It’s an absolute necessity,” says Veralucia Mendoza Mendoza, disability rights advocate for The Ability Center of Northwest Ohio.

The Ability Center has advocated for a TARTA expansion for years. An expansion would expand access and bring in desperately needed funding.

“The projections that we have right now state that we would be at a deficit of 58.7 million by the year 2027. There’s no way around that. That is how our current funding model is structured. If we do not have a change and an increase in our funding, we will have a significant deficit in our hands in 5-6 years,” says Kelsie Hoagland, president of TARTA’s board of trustees.

13abc then asked Hoagland if TARTA would cease to exist at that point.

“We will have some difficult decisions to make,” she responds.

Right now, only four of the seven communities served by TARTA, need to approve putting a half percent sales tax levy to replace the current property tax on the November ballot. That’s a simple majority.

But State Representative Derek Merrin introduced a bill that would require approval from all seven communities for any levy over 0.3%.

Merrin says this will protect suburban voters from the will of the urban majority.

“The taxpayers decided for over 30 years in the suburban communities not to join TARTA... The real question is why doesn’t TARTA just respect the voters who say they don’t want to be a part of TARTA?” says Merrin.

But Nathan Turner says for Lucas County citizens living with disabilities, the need for a TARTA expansion cannot be understated.

“It’s going to remove so many barriers to accessing the community and pursuing employment and building relationships and visiting with families and friends, and doing all the things that people without disabilities do every day and take for granted,” says Turner.

TARTA is still working towards a half percent levy, but the agency has never managed to get unanimous support for that in the past.

Video of Turner in his wheelchair was provided by Ohio Tech Ambassadors Network.

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