PERRYSBURG - As public transportation in the city rode off into the sunset Tuesday, council members continued their discussion in an attempt to keep Perrysburg Transit rolling along.
"We have the unfortunate luxury of time at this point," Health, Sanitation and Public Utilities Committee Chair Todd Grayson said, noting that the next opportunity to place a levy before the public is a number of months away. An audience of about 30 area residents and media looked on.
"The next legal possible date is May 7."
Transit service officially ended at 8 p.m. Tuesday, the day when the Nov. 6 election results were certified by the Wood County Board of Elections.
The transit saga has been a lengthy, and an increasingly controversial, one. After voting to leave TARTA in March, council chose to contract for gap service with Ride Right, and voted to place a 1.45-mill public transportation levy on the ballot to fund a transit service with a full menu of offerings. The service was to cost in the neighborhood of $500,000 per year, about a third of the nearly $1.3 million residents paid each year to TARTA in property tax assessments.
However, the measure failed by just under 200 votes in the election, catching many off guard. Confusion amongst voters about what kind of service was being promoted, and admittedly vague ballot language, have been blamed for the failure of the measure. Some residents reportedly assumed that even if the levy failed, ADA paratransit service for the disabled would continue unabated.
At a council meeting earlier this month, Councilman Mike Olmstead bristled at the suggestion that council had mishandled the transit issue.
On Tuesday night Grayson indicated that the millage requested for the May ballot could likely be reduced because of the lesser cost of Ride Right service (the initial ballot millage was formulated before Ride Right was hired and pricing was unknown) and a reduction in hours to a six-hour-a-day fixed-route service.
"That cuts a significant number of hours during the week," he said, but they would also "keep the ADA and Dial-A-Ride as planned."
He said that the city would probably seek 1 or 1.1 mills in the next levy, with each mill costing approximately $30 for a $150,000 home.
Member Tim McCarthy pointed out that even if a ballot measure is successful in May, and a service were started immediately, the revenues collected by the levy wouldn't come in until 2014.
Municipal Administrator Bridgette Kabat noted that there were options for covering the expense of a service in that case, including the issuance of various kinds of bond notes, or borrowing from the city's general fund until the monies came in.
Lake Township Police Chief and Perrysburg resident Mark Hummer noted that the council needs to clearly tell people what will be missing if a new levy fails, and in that way fix the misconceptions that plagued the original vote.
Perrysburg resident Rosalinda Brown put her concerns plainly to the committee members, asking "Will there be some form of transportation rolling tomorrow? Because as of Friday, you have people who will have their life source begin to hit their bank account."
"They will need to be able to get their basic needs met by accessing some form of transportation to do their banking," she continued, "to do their grocery shopping, to do the things that sustain them daily," as well as attending church.
"Ms. Brown, the service ends today," said Grayson. "There is no money to fund service past today."
"That's where we stand. There's just no funding."
"'Til May 7th I have nothing?" Brown asked later after Grayson had addressed her additional questions about changes in service.
"Until May 7th I can offer you nothing," said Grayson.
"That's a travesty on the constituency," Brown said. She later stated she had been so agitated over the issue that she was in a hospital Monday night with chest pains wondering about her alternatives.
"I am 77 years old. Tonight at 8 o'clock I will have the least amount of independence that I have had in my entire lire." said Gil Lutz, Perrysburg, who is visually impaired and walks with the aid of a seeing-eye dog. Lutz was the co-chair for the Perrysburg 4 Transit Committee during the election.
"I cannot believe the city government proposed it (the transit issue) the way that they did, massaged it the way that they did, and the voters didn't understand it enough to understand what they were voting for. This is one of the most confusing things I have been involved in in my life, and believe me I've been involved in a lot."
Lutz closed by stating that he was surprised, hurt and "not proud to say that I'm a Perrysburger anymore."
Gregory Symington, Perrysburg, who gets around via a motorized scooter, chastised the committee members for their lack of consideration about providing transport for the disabled, stating "You do care, but you don't" and at times raised his voice, even warning of potential legal action against the city.
Earlier in the meeting, one audience member posited the hope that area churches might start organizing to "adopt" seniors and veterans to provide rides.
"As a community, how do we ignore that?" she asked regarding the disabled who will be without transportation.
McCarthy noted that the idea of such a supplemental service was broached previously at council, but there was general disapproval because it might be viewed as a circumvention of the will of the voters, and could also create confusion when another levy goes on the ballot.