LIMA — Nearly three-fourths of Allen County’s voters approved the Allen County Regional Transit Authority’s request for a 0.1% increase in Allen County’s sales tax.
Final unofficial vote tallies released Tuesday counted 7,433 votes for the levy compared to 2,593 against. Voter turnout for the primary election was 15.25%.
The new tax is expected to deliver $1.5 million in additional funds annually to the RTA, which intends to use the dollars to reinstate fixed bus routes cut in 2018. The RTA has long said that without a local source of funding to match its federal grant dollars, the public bus service would find itself steadily eliminating services to stay fiscally sound. With the increase in place, Allen County’s sales tax rate would rise to 6.85%
“I’m so thankful that the community stepped up to helps us,” RTA Executive Director Shelia Haney said. “This has not just been a six-month campaign. But for the last three years, it’s been hard for my staff, and I’m thankful to them for sticking it out.”
A previous sales tax request failed in November 2017. In that case, the RTA requested a 0.25% increase. New laws made it possible to request a smaller increase in this election.
Tax dollars raised by the increase won’t arrive in the RTA’s coffers overnight. Haney expects to reinstate night and weekend routes in the beginning of 2020. In the meantime, the RTA’s executive board will be working to figure out how to move forward in 2019 knowing that 2020 will arrive with added revenue.
“We hit out peaks in 2016 and 2017 with a ridership of over 400,000. I thought we had very good coverage,” Haney said. “It’s going to take some time to get it all back.”
Exit polls taken throughout the county on Tuesday showed a voting populace largely in favor of the levy, with many people pointing out the county’s need for robust public transit that helps those without personal transportation options.
“I worked at a place down on St. Johns Avenue, and the majority of the people needed a ride. Some of them really tried to get to work. If they cut that service, they’d be lost,” Ernie Clay said, explaining his vote in favor of the RTA’s tax increase. “I notice a lot of handicap people ride it. That’s the reason I’m over here.”
It would’ve been disastrous for the minority community if the RTA levy failed, said Dr. H. Frank Taylor.
“The transit authority is really very valuable to the black community,” he said. “Not everyone has an automobile. We’re really very blessed to have such a large transit authority.”
A few voters also voted as users of the service. Both Lisa Walton and Kathy Bogart pointed out that their children use the service to go to school. Bogart’s daughter, who is intellectually disabled, gave high marks to the RTA after the two left the polling station in Bluffton.
“I love the RTA!” said Bogart’s daughter, Kim Donaldson, who was visibly excited and wore an RTA T-shirt.
Other voters admitted their dislike of paying additional taxes, but they said the increase — 2 cents on a $20 purchase — was negligible when considering the community’s larger need.
“We need it,” said Gene Long, of Bluffton. “They come to Bluffton. It doesn’t cost that much.”
Similarly, Shawnee Township resident Tim Clark admitted that the government agencies tend to spend a lot of money on “stupid things,” but the RTA was something worth spending additional dollars on.
“I don’t think it’s such a big burden for the community to bear something like that,” Clark said.
Derry Ferguson echoed the sentiment upon leaving the polling place in Bluffton.
“We voted ‘yes’ for everything. It makes it easy,” he said.
Ferguson had voted in the election with his wife, Dar, to cast their votes in support of both the RTA levy and the Bluffton school renewals. Dar said she supports the RTA because it helps people like her sister, who used to go to Marimor.
“I said (to Derry) ‘isn’t this crazy? We’re voting for these increases,’” Dar said. “But they’re needed.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.