By its own admission, a 10-year, 0.25 percent income tax request by the Allen County Regional Transit Authority will raise about $3 million more than it needs.
And by its own admission, the RTA doesn’t have a plan on how it will use that extra money, just a bunch of “maybe we can do this” or “maybe we can do that” statements.
What Executive Director Sheila Haney can tell you is there will be cuts in services should the income tax measure fail. Likely to go would be the Saturday routes and evening routes. That’s all because the RTA is expecting a budget shortfall of more than $1 million, since 30 percent of its grant funding is now gone.
It all adds up to a no-win situation for voters when they cast their ballots for the Nov. 7 general election.
We do believe the county’s public bus transportation system provides a valuable service. It transported 396,000 riders last year and expects even more this year, bringing many of these people to their jobs or medical appointments. Most riders are on a bus for about 10 minutes, and buses are fullest between 6 and 10 a.m. and 3 and 5 p.m. as riders head to their jobs.
But the lack of planning and accountability is especially troublesome with this request.
RTA is coming to voters with its hands outstretched and a cry to “trust us — we’ll do the right thing with the excess funds.” It has not explored other options, such as seeking corporate donations, especially from those companies or small businesses that benefit the most from its services.
Haney said she understands the concerns, but maintains the excess money won’t be wasted. It can be used for any transportation issue, she claims, including sidewalks, safer ramps and building new bus shelters along the routes. She’s also interested in pursuing a bike-sharing program.
The decision to seek an income tax request came with angst from the RTA board, passing by just a 4-3 vote. Those in favor feel the sales tax is the fairest way to go. For example, it means only an additional tax of:
• 25 cents on a $100 purchase of home improvement items.
• $2.50 on a new $1,000 refrigerator.
• or $62.50 on the purchase of a $25,000 car.
Basic needs such as housing, utilities and food are not taxable items. Also, because Lima is a shopping hub for the region, RTA estimated 80 percent of the bill would be paid by people who live outside the county.
The Lima-Allen County Regional Planning Commission hasn’t taken a stance on the levy yet, but Executive Director Thomas Mazur did say the RTA is an important part of the region’s economic viability.
“All too often people assume people using the transit system are too lazy or not able to willing to drive themselves,” he said. “The reality is they don’t have the finances or resources to get there otherwise.”
While Lima provides $95,000 a year to the RTA, the Allen County commissioners haven’t contributed to the agency since making cuts in 2008 and may have plans to seek their own additional income tax request in another year or two.
Voters have a tough choice to make on this issue.